Florida lawmakers have spent so much time the past few years grappling with huge budget deficits, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and other divisive issues that residents have every right to wonder where the fun has gone.
But the budget passed by the Legislature last week fills that void by a good bit, and then some.
If approved by Gov. Rick Scott, Florida would become home to a 275-mile-long supertrail for bicyclists and pedestrians. It would be called the Coast to Coast Connector. Lawmakers allocated $50 million for it.
This would not be a trail to nowhere. The project would fill gaps of 72 miles between existing trails in Central, East-Central and West-Central Florida. When completed, the Coast to Coast would link Canaveral National Seashore on Florida’s east coast to St. Petersburg.
The benefits would be endless — health-wise, economically and recreationally.
Florida would become an even more attractive place to live, work and visit. People would have the chance to exercise more. The trail would draw even more visitors from all over in search of new and exciting bicycle trips.
We envision entrepreneurs opening eateries and other small businesses to capitalize on this new attraction. A development official in Connellsville, Pa., told the Orlando Sentinel that new shops, restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts opened after a section of the Great Allegheny Passage, a 141-mile trail, opened in 1986.
And users would see Florida’s natural wonders not visible from car windows.
For example, the Gen. James A. Van Fleet State Trail, which slices through the wildlife-rich Green Swamp in Sumter, Lake and Polk counties, would be connected to the Withlacoochee State Trail north of Tampa. The Withlacoochee would be connected to the Good Neighbor Trail in Hernando County, which would be linked to the Suncoast Trail along the Suncoast Parkway, which would be linked to the Starkey Trail in Pasco.
The Starkey would be tied to the Pinellas Trail, which ends in south Pinellas.
The project would benefit numerous communities, not a select few as often is the case with legislators’ pet causes tucked in the state budget each year. This is truly a project for the people.
Scott should enthusiastically support the Coast to Coast Connector and see it for what it is: an exciting new attraction that will boost Florida’s economy, tourism industry and residents’ quality of life — and bring more excitement to the Sunshine State after a bit of a lull.