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Route to revamp Good Neighbor Trail is too long

"Shortly after that, I was home, where my ... oldest son was watching 'Blues Clues,' happily oblivious to all of the bike rides he will soon be forced to take on the route I had just walked.'' (Hernando Times, Aug. 10, 1998)

That route I walked was the path of the Good Neighbor Trail, which will eventually (I think) run from Brooksville to the Withlacoochee State Trail, 9 miles to the east.

At the time, our house was two blocks from the old Russell Street train station, where the trail is supposed to end.

We have since moved, which is the kind of change that tends to happen in the life of a person in the course of a decade.

My son, then 2, is now taller than some of my co-workers. I have gone gray. And I have learned a profound lesson of fatherhood: that you can't force children to do anything.

Which is why, when I retraced my steps on Tuesday, my son and I didn't walk the entire length of the trail — just enough to see that while we have been transformed, it hasn't changed one bit.

The path of the trail through southern Brooksville is still littered with broken glass and shaded by vine-tangled trees. Farther east, the trail flanks a power line right of way before passing through stands of pine in the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Not an inch of it has been paved.

City and county officials will tell you this is "frustrating'' or "disappointing.''

It's not. It's ridiculous and a waste of a great opportunity.

The path of the trail, a former rail line, is all publicly owned. Building the trail would cost less than $3-million — a small sum considering what it would bring to the county:

A linear park (as planners call rail-trails) for locals, and a regional attraction that could recast Brooksville as a place to launch cycling trips followed by visits to restaurants or stores.

"It's the epicenter of our revitalization efforts,'' said City Council member Lara Bradburn, a longtime supporter of the trail who had some good news to report.

The county recently received $230,000 to pave 1.3 miles of the trail from Russell Street to Jasmine Road, and work may begin as early as Nov. 1.

So why am I still mad?

For one thing, it should have been $430,000. The city lost a $200,000 state grant in January because the county could not secure the federal transportation funds in time to match the grant money.

Without going into details about how this happened, I'll tell you it involved missed deadlines, poor communication and the basic problem with this project since it was first announced in 1996:

City and county leaders didn't care enough to make it happen.

See, this grant was the kind of outside funding the trail needs if it is to be completed in less than a generation.

As it stands now, the only money for the trail comes from a federal fund doled out to the county at a rate of about $275,000 per year and also must pay for every other project for cyclists and walkers.

The last and by far the longest stretch of the trail is way down on the list to receive money, meaning it will have to wait at least a decade and, with an estimated cost of $2.1-million, will absorb nearly a decade's worth of funds.

I just hope my grandson likes to ride bikes.

Route to revamp Good Neighbor Trail is too long 07/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 3:13pm]
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