70 Miles of Safe Walking and Biking Trails in Collier County? It’s Becoming Reality!

by Michelle Avola-Brown, Executive Director, Naples Pathways Coalition

Many cities in Florida like Dunedin, Winter Garden, and Inverness have extensive, connected multiuse pathways that enhance the quality of life, improve safety, and provide substantial economic benefits. Inexplicably, Collier County lacks a safe, inviting pathway system for walking and biking. Our trails consist of the Gordon River Greenway and the Rich King Memorial Greenway. Four and three miles in length, respectively, they are not connected to other paths and are so popular that at times they are too crowded to enjoy safely.

In recent surveys of Naples residents, walking, hiking, and biking trails were cited as the second most important recreation facilities (beaches came in first). Trails ranked number one in unmet needs. A safe pathway system for non-motorized recreation and transportation is genuinely what the residents and visitors to Collier County need.

In 2018, Naples Pathways Coalition (NPC) introduced a multiuse pathway system for Collier County. We began meeting with city, county, and state representatives, local and state Departments of Transportation, our hospital system, and business and community leaders. NPC received support for the trail across the board. We contacted the national organization, Rails to Trails, and shared our vision. In January 2019, we coordinated to host a kickoff meeting with members of their team, a broad representation from city and county transportation, our Metropolitan Planning Organization, members of local government, parks and recreation, public transit, an architect, and others.

Fundraising began, and in April 2019, NPC hired Kimley-Horn to help develop a strategic plan, map a possible study corridor with Collier County Transportation Department and the Collier MPO, and increase community awareness and support for the project. The Paradise Coast Trail (PCT) was decided as the name for the trail, and we continued gaining broad support.

Later in 2019, a proclamation supporting the PCT was issued by the Board of Collier County Commissioners. The trail was incorporated into the County’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, and Senator Passidomo sponsored our Local Legislative Funding request for $250,000 to fund the feasibility study.

In 2020, NPC learned that Governor DeSantis signed our Local Funding Request into the 2020-2021 budget. We sent out a request for proposals, and once again, Kimley-Horn rose to the top of the firms that applied. The feasibility study, a crucial step in making the dream of this trail a reality, began in May.

The effort launched with extensive outreach to stakeholders representing local and state agencies, business and tourism, community foundations, environment and conservation, parks and recreation, tribal nations, healthcare, and community developers. The study team conducted a comprehensive existing conditions survey of the study corridor and currently analyzing alternative routes. We will be seeking input on proposed trail alignments at a Public Open House held at River Park Community Center on January 26, 2022, from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. The team will next conduct a targeted environmental analysis to get a head start on the next phase of work. Completion of the study is expected by June 2022, with project segments ready for programming, design, and construction.

Naples Pathways Coalition is hosting a free public event, the Paradise Coast Trail Community Celebration, to mark the kick-off of the trail at Baker Park on February 5, 2022, from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Some planned activities include a bike rodeo, bike decorating contest, a children’s bike ride, a 1K fun run, a bounce house, a splash pad, and games. Adults will enjoy tasty treats, cornhole, a pet parade, give aways, and more. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Contact Michelle@NaplesPathways.org for more information.

We urge the community to come out to the Open House in January and the Community Celebration in February. The Paradise Coast Trail is going to be an incredible amenity for Collier County. We need everyone’s support to get it built to enjoy it in our lifetime and leave this remarkable legacy for our children and grandchildren!

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