Celebration event takes place in Payne Park, where the trail is expected to reach by 2022.
Community members, government officials and trail-enthusiasts alike congregated Friday morning to kick off the “race to completion” of the Legacy Trail extension.
Sarasota County voters agreed in November to fund a $65 million extension of the trail from the northern end near Palmer Ranch into downtown Sarasota. The extension will include overpasses, bathrooms, water stations and further expansion on the southern end from Venice into North Port.
And as of June 27 — a day before the kickoff event — the county closed on the land acquisition for the trail extension, meaning they were clear to begin construction of the project.
So, a morning of pomp and circumstance took place June 28, featuring a line of tents and volunteers in Payne Park.
“We officially closed yesterday, so we had the bond closing a little earlier in the week,” explained Nicole Rissler, director of Sarasota County Department of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources. “So, that basically put the money in place to actually acquire the land from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road in terms of the railroad corridor.”
There to celebrate the trail was also the Friends of the Legacy Trail — a nonprofit whose purpose is to “support, promote, enhance and protect The Legacy Trail” in Sarasota.
Louis Kosiba, who recently took over as president of the organization, said attending the event felt like “walking on air,” despite the difficulties ahead.
“We have a good working relationship with the county and I expect that to continue,” he said. “There are construction projects, there’s going to be bumps in the road, there’s going to be things that nobody thought about, there's going to be little challenges — and I really look forward to working with the county on those issues.”
Kosiba also cited the opportunity for art installation along the trail, though his main source of elation stemmed from the potential of an early completion date of 2022, he said. That's a year earlier than previously estimated, barring the unforeseen.
And it might not end there.
Doug Hattaway, the senior project manager for the Legacy Trail extension through the Trust for Public Land, was also in attendance. And he says the trail might become a part of a larger regional picture in the future.
“We have always been eyeing its extension,” he said. “In fact, we are still eyeing how this can fit into a larger regional trail — a skeletal spine if you will — of a regional trail system. For us, this is a culmination of well over a decade of investment and work to further our mission of connecting land with people.”
But for now, most Sarasota residents and officials seemed more than thrilled with the project as is.
“Celebrating this extension is celebrating something that connects us all,” Commission Chair Hines told attendees. ”Thank you to everyone who voted for the referendum. This is your legacy.”