By: Ryan Randall
In recent years, a focus has been placed on ecotourism, tourism directed towards natural environments. The state of Florida has been involved in ecotourism through the utilization of trails, such as the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, a 260-mile bike loop that runs through Brevard, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia Counties and is projected to be completed in 2025. The state is also part of the East Coast Greenway, a 2,900-mile trail conceived in 1991 that runs along the coast from Maine to Key West.
Another trail Florida is working on is the Coast-to-Coast Trail, 250 miles of winding pavement that will start around Cape Canaveral and end in St. Petersburg. The connector starts with the Space Coast Trail and ends with the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, linking together businesses and parks along the path. The trail is approximately 75 percent finished with completion expected around 2021. When completed, the trail is projected to have an annual economic impact of $120 million for Central Florida.
The Coast-to-Coast Trail consists of 18 segments that form the path. The planned trail was passed in 2014 and received $15.5 million of the state’s budget for 2015, while the Florida Department of Transportation committed $18 million. In 2015, $41 million was appropriated until 2020 to complete the gaps in the trail. According to the initial Florida Department of Transportation report in 2015, “With the development of this trail, Central Florida will see innumerable benefits to its economy, tourism, health, transportation, recreation, conservation and quality of life.”
Growing Communities with the Trail
Cities across the region have already utilized the trails in their own areas to bring in new businesses. Titusville opened a welcome center next to the Prichard House, a historic tourist attraction 714 feet off the trail. The city requested proposals and secured a bike shop in the center, known as the Coast-to-Coast Bicycle Shop. Titusville Economic Development Director Edyie McCall sees the impact of the trails affecting the businesses and real estate around them similar to other “trail towns.”
“In the next 10 years, you’re going to see a totally changed downtown,” McCall said. “Look at some of the other cities that had a trail connected to an even larger trail but didn’t do much publicity to promote it. It caught on anyway because people like the way it feels downtown when they see families out cycling or on a bike hike.”
One of the towns that received an economic boost from a local trail is Winter Garden. The West Orange Trail, which will be a part of the Coast-to-Coast Trail, allowed those on the path to explore the area and discover restaurants and shops. As more people came downtown via the trail, businesses experienced success, leading to more places opening up and neighborhoods being built. In addition to the adjacent shops and eateries, the West Orange Trail is also home to historic tours hosted by the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation. Couple the success Winter Garden has enjoyed with the resurgence of Lake Apopka (a popular fishing location in the 1930s), and the area looks to enjoy more economic prosperity courtesy of travelers along the Coast-to-Coast Trail.
“The trail is not just a great way to bring in ecotourism, but it’s a great way for people who live here to get out and be active, be outside and get away from their desks and TVs.” – Krista Carter
Boosting Activity Alongside the Economy
In addition to ecotourism, trail organizers are hoping it will create a healthier community. The Healthy West Orange Initiative is a challenge taken by its citizens to become more active.
“The trail is not just a great way to bring in ecotourism, but it’s a great way for people who live here to get out and be active, be outside and get away from their desks and TVs,” said Krista Carter, vice president of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce.
As people across Central Florida bike and walk along the Coast-to-Coast Trail, the economy will benefit from the people frequenting stores and parks along the way, while those traveling on the trail will explore towns in a healthy manner. With a strong focus placed on ecotourism, the state hopes to build upon the success towns have had with trails and increase the financial, health and environmental potential of local communities.