The Good Neighbor Trail Connector Project is Good News for the Nature Coast
Near the end of 2022, I noticed a change in the intersection of Cortez Boulevard and Cobb Road, a decrepit building was razed, and some pretty major looking construction was underway. “Oh no, another gas station,” I thought and began asking friends if they knew what was going on there.
The trails are being connected there; I was told. People sounded happy and excited. What did it mean?
The Good Neighbor Trail Connector project is the official name of this local 4.5-mile trail link. It includes a pedestrian bridge over the intersection of SR 50 and Cobb Road that connects the existing Good Neighbor Trail in downtown Brooksville with the 42-mile Suncoast Trail that runs from the southern Pasco county line through Hernando County to Cortez Boulevard, parallel to the Suncoast Parkway.
Nonmotorized Trails tend to be Regional in Nature
How many “trails” are there? It gets a bit confusing because traditionally biking, hiking, horse trails, and multiuse trails are built regionally utilizing former railbeds or as part of a park, and each one is named accordingly.
The Coast-to-Coast Connector multiuse trail was designated in 2013 with a goal of connecting fourteen of these regional and local trails with each other to provide a 250-mile path for hikers and bikers from the southern tip of Pinellas County to Jupiter on the Atlantic Coast.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s vision for the C2C trail began with $50 million in funding to complete the “gaps” between existing trails to form this continuous multi-use trail across the state (2014) that was then vetoed by Governor Rick Scott. Spanning nine counties, this requires collaboration between state and regional agencies and groups.
The Florida Greenways & Trails Foundation writes that paved, non-motorized trails are being designed and built that will connect our communities to Florida’s state parks, natural landscapes, and waterways. These pathways will offer residents and visitors a scenic, safe and healthy transportation alternative to Florida’s crowded and often dangerous highways.
Economic Benefits of Connecting the Trails
According to the Florida Coast-to-Coast Connector Economic Benefits Report, with a one-time investment of $42 million to complete the project, Central Florida will realize an annual economic benefit of $120 million.
A survey of trail users in Central Florida reveals that each visitor spends approximately $20 per visit. More than 1 million people use Central Florida trails each year.
West Central Florida and the Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail
In West Central Florida, the Coast-to-Coast Connector trail begins in the center of downtown St. Petersburg and runs through Pinellas and Pasco Counties to Brooksville in Hernando County. This is nearly 125 miles of connected trails that include the Pinellas Trail, Tri County Trail, Starkey Gap Trail, Starkey Boulevard Trail, Starkey Wilderness Trail, and the Suncoast Trail.
Essentially, you could traverse 125 miles on one trek, but there are six different names for the path. I find this funny, but as I delved into the development of the C2C, I began to understand why. It is the passion of local trail advocates that gets each portion funded and completed. “I believe it was the mid-2010s that the Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail was envisioned,” said Patricia Laird, co-owner of Crank Works Bicycles in Brooksville, “and it wasn’t funded at that point.”
Fortunately, Governor Ron DeSantis signed off on $50 million to complete the gaps in the Coast-to-Coast Trail for this budget year. Work began in earnest on completing the Good Neighbor Trail Connector. This is very exciting news for Florida’s Nature Coast – especially cyclists!
The Good Neighbor Trail Connector in Brooksville
In Brooksville, the Suncoast Trail ended at Cortez Boulevard, as it had originally been built with the Suncoast Parkway, whose first phase stopped construction there. In February of 2022, when phase 2 opened, the Suncoast Trail was committed to continue north, following the toll road to State Road 44, with a pedestrian overpass crossing US98. This will be years before completion.
Meanwhile, the Good Neighbor Trail, which connects downtown Brooksville to eastern Hernando County and the Withlacoochee State Trail, ended at Russell Street Park, where the historic train station museum is located. The Withlacoochee State Trail travels north to south along a former railroad bed through eastern Citrus, Hernando and Pasco Counties, from Inverness to Trilby. The eastern trailhead is about 1.5 miles north of Silver Lake Recreation Complex.
The Good Neighbor Trail Connector project will build a 12-foot-wide paved multi-use trail in Brooksville.
This segment of the Good Neighbor Trail will be built from west of the intersection of SR 50 and SR 50A, which has a multiuse trail on the south side of the highway to the Suncoast Trail, along SR 50A/Jefferson Street to and through Tom Varn Park, then along US 41/Broad Street to Main Street, and along Main Street to Russell Street.
Construction began September 12, 2022, and is expected to be completed in early 2025, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.
How did we get the Good Neighbor Trail Connector through Brooksville’s Downtown?
The Good Neighbor Trail was originally conceived over 30 years ago to connect downtown Brooksville with the Withlacoochee State Trail. It took years to get funding, but when FDOT was looking for ways to connect trails across Florida, it was in the right place at the right time. That is good for Brooksville, its merchants, restaurants, B&Bs, and even its housing market.
When FDOT hired the engineering firm for its survey, several routes were offered in the report. The engineering firm was suggesting an option that went straight down Russell Street, effectively missing most of the downtown business core.
Patricia Laird, owner of Crankworks Bicycles, Tammy Heon, Director of Tourism for Hernando County, and Mike Dolan of the Tourism Development Council spoke up, encouraging the route that is being constructed because it offered the opportunity to bring travelers through Brooksville’s historic and charming downtown area.
“Cyclists prefer to experience towns, to stop and enjoy a drink or a meal,” Patricia said, “There are so many benefits of having a trail come through Brooksville. The Good Neighbor Trail Connector is an important piece of the Florida Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail.”
Patricia and her husband, Mark, opened Crankworks Bicycles in 2011. Patricia got into the sport because Mark was a cyclist. She bought her first bike, began racing and found she loved it. Today they are firmly entrenched in the local, regional and even state-wide cycling scene. “It is exciting to have the trail come through Brooksville. There is sure to be a good economic benefit for Brooksville’s downtown businesses. There are many cross-Florida cycling groups and we have already seen an uptick in business from Good Neighbor Trail Connector coming through our town.”
- 437264-2-52-01 Good Neighbor Trail in Downtown Brooksville along SR 50A, US 41 and Main St. (fdottampabay.com)
- Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail | Florida Department of Environmental Protection
- Coast_to_Coast_Report_PROOF.pdf (squarespace.com)
- FL Coast-to-Coast Trail, 250 Miles. E-Z Map Links, Reg Updates (100floridatrails.com)