The Sarasota County Commission voted  to extend county’s Legacy Trail

The Legacy Trail will be getting longer.

And maybe longer than that.

The Sarasota County Commission voted conditionally Sept 29, 2017 to buy 2.7 miles of unused railroad right of way for a northward extension of the popular jogging, walking and biking trail. Unless something went wrong, county government will extend the trail from its northern terminus — at Culverhouse Nature Park, near Palmer Ranch Parkway — to Ashton Road. (Currently, the 12.5-mile trail links its northern terminus to Venice; a connection to the Venetian Waterway Trail provides access to South Venice beaches.)

The county identified $7.9 million that will cover the acquisition cost if the commissioners maintain their proposed approach to the 2017-18 budget. On behalf of the county, The Trust for Public Land has negotiated a contract with CSX Corp., which has leased the right of way to Seminole Gulf Railway; the real estate closing followed in December.

That vote was the first major development of two for the existing stretch of the Legacy Trail.

But, wait, there’s more. November 6, 2018 our citizenry approved $65 million in additional funding to take the trail all the way to downtown Sarasota included bike bridges over Clark Road and Bee Ridge. Yes, by more than a two-to-one margin, Sarasota County voters cleared the way for a long-dreamed-of completion of the public trail that will nearly connect one end of the county to the other.

The commissioners had already agreed to a strategy for pursuing the acquisition of another 6.3 miles of available right of way, which would take the trail from Ashton Road further north, into the core of the city of Sarasota — to Payne Park and nearby Fruitville Road. The County Commission wisely decided to seek voter approval of a bond issue — estimated at $65 million — that would finance purchase and construction of the additional right of way including crossings at high-traffic roads. It appeared on November 2018's ballot.

These are substantial sums, but the case for investment in the first extension phase is compelling and it was appropriate to seek voter approval of the second-phase expansion to the edge of downtown Sarasota. County officials state the bond issue, if approved, would at today’s tax rates cost the owner of a home with $200,000 in taxable value $14 per year.

The trail, built in 2007, has provided residents and visitors alike with opportunities for recreation, exercise and socialization; county officials say the number of annual users now approaches 200,000. Furthermore, since the trail traverses some lovely natural areas, it has developed economic value in attracting ecotourism.

The two extensions will bring the Legacy closer to numerous neighborhoods, dramatically increasing the number of residents — including teens and children — with access to the trail.

Since the trail is an amenity, as opposed to a necessity such as public safety, it makes sense to ask voters if they value it enough to spend money on the extension.

The Friends of the Legacy Trail organization mobilized support and urged other community groups favoring a longer trail to do the same. Local history has shown that government initiatives are more likely to gain the endorsement of voters if there is widespread public support at the grassroots level.