Linear park system to link Downtown to Riverside, San Marco

The Emerald Trail will be completed in phases, with at least one segment built a year.
The Emerald Trail will be completed in phases, with at least one segment built a year.

Plans are becoming a reality for a 30-mile network of walking and biking trails set to link Downtown with multiple neighborhoods and historic districts including Riverside and San Marco. Groundwork Jacksonville is using a $30,000 grant to begin the first phase of the project, called The Emerald Trail, to connect a converted section of railroad track to the Brooklyn and LaVilla neighborhoods. 

 The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a nonprofit dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former railroad lines, bestowed the grant, according to an RTC news release. The aim of Rails to Trails is to improve public health, among other aspects. Groundwork shares that goal.

“There are so many facets to the Emerald Trail project,” said Kay Ehas, Groundwork Jacksonville CEO. “I think the overall benefit is that we expect it to be nationally renowned based on how it is designed, which is why design is so important to us. It will give the City of Jacksonville a nationally-renowned amenity that it can be known for.” She said the planned trail system is set to connect to 21 parks, 14 neighborhoods, Downtown, 17 schools and Hogan and McCoys Creeks. The project is a partnership between Groundwork and the City, which has committed to building a segment of the trail every year. Groundwork’s obligation is to raise half the money for the design of each segment.

The model project will be the first segment to be built and will connect Brooklyn to LaVilla through the S-line, a former section of railroad that was turned over to the city and transformed with a pollinator garden, a community herb and spice garden, and bee hotels. The new model project trail is near Beaver Street, in the Railyard District. The S-line, meanwhile, was recently transformed thanks to grants that TD Bank Group and the Arbor Day Foundation awarded to Groundwork and the City’s Urban Forestry department and the work of many community volunteers. Its opening was celebrated March 2.

Ehas said the trail would become a valuable part of the community. “It’s recreation, because you can bike and walk. It’s a health project because the folks that benefit the most live near the trail. And a study was done that for every $1 spent on trails, it saved $2 in direct medical costs.”

 She also noted that it could be a potent driver of dollars to the neighborhoods, which include San Marco and Riverside. “The biggie is economic development,” she explained, pointing to the Atlanta Beltline as a model. According to that organization, the beltline has created 11 miles of multi-use, urban trails, 315 acres of new or renovated greenspace and parks and is on track to create more than 20 miles more, generate up to 30,000 jobs and $10 billion in economic development by 2030.

“Ours too would be an economic driver,” Ehas said.

She said that after the model project, the Hogan Street portion of the trail would be developed, starting no later than April 2021.  Multiple community partners have come on board including members of the Audubon Society, the native plant society, horticulturalists, urban farmers and an urban planner. 

“One of the things we want to do is to create interesting and varied landscapes so that as you are going along the trail, you are going ‘oh wow, look at that!’” Ehas said. “Bring nature into it and help wildlife, butterflies, birds, to have it be a linear park system.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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