| Fort Myers News-Press
John Yarbrough Linear Park is getting a trailhead parking lot
John Yarbrough Linear Park is getting a trailhead parking lot on the south end of the trail on Six-Mile Cypress Parkway.
Amanda Inscore, Fort Myers News-Press
The path and existence of John Yarbrough Linear Park has been, unlike the park itself, a long and winding road.
The Lee County park either begins, ends or intersects through four major east-west traffic arteries: Colonial Boulevard at the northern end, Crystal Drive, Daniels Parkway and Six Mile Cypress Parkway at the southern end.
It provides recreational opportunities through the heart of Lee County’s central population base.
The park’s namesake, longtime and now retired Lee County parks and recreation director John Yarbrough, persisted in prioritizing the creation of what opened in 2005 as Ten Mile Linear Park, despite it lacking some of the funding and amenities he would have liked. And despite it being six miles long instead of 10.
“My dilemma was, wait until I have all the money to do anything?” Yarbrough said. “Or is it better to get something in the ground, and build from there?”
Yarbrough and the county chose the latter path.
They didn’t have the money for a trailhead. Nor did they have the money, upwards of $1 million, to build a pedestrian bridge over Daniels Parkway. Instead, the park moves along Daniels heading west to a stoplight at Brynwood Lane/Big Pine Way for crossing the busy road.
This year, five years from now and perhaps beyond, the park will continue to evolve and lengthen.
The Lee Board of County Commissioners voted in favor of spending $1 million to build a trailhead near “Mile 0” of the park off Six Mile Cypress Parkway. The county government announced plans to build Jan. 19. Construction should commence later this year.
“I’ve been trying to find funding for it since 2012,” said Lee County commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, as it runs through the middle of his district. “I’m just happy we were able to approve it, because it will make it more enjoyable for everybody. It’s a nice area. It’s a nice trail. I hope people get out and use it more.”
Renderings show 25 parking spaces, bathrooms and a pavilion that will be built by Fowler Construction, engineered by Cardno and designed by ADG Architecture. Those will be built on 1.4 acres of a 7-acre parcel purchased by the county for $198,100 in 2018.
The trailhead will be accessible and in compliance with the American Disabilities Act.
As a frequent bike rider on the trail, my concerns were that the trailhead location would take away from the current ambiance of the trail itself, secluded from the world at large, hidden behind trees.
Most of those trees will be chopped down, and the ditch filled to build the new parking area and trailhead.
I have other concerns about the park: its upkeep and maintenance. Graffiti is scrawled in three places on the northern portion of the paved trail and along the bridge crossing the canal along Crystal Drive. Some of the words have been partially blacked out, while other words remain.
Speaking of Crystal Drive, if you’re reading this, please slow down and then stop at the crosswalk for pedestrians, cutting down on my near-death experiences there.
And the litter: Styrofoam cups, aluminum cans and plastic bags are strewn about, here and there, both alongside the trail and in the adjacent canal.
Pendergrass said he would try and organize a cleanup effort by connecting with a non-profit group, Keep Lee Beautiful.
“It’s unfortunate that people are just so dirty,” Pendergrass said. “Why would you walk out there and do that and just throw a bag of food on the ground? I’ll say, ‘Hey, can you help me get this area cleaned up?'”
But the new amenities give me hope for the park’s future. Maybe the project will put a spotlight back on the park and perhaps prompt that cleanup effort.
Current parks and recreation director Jesse Lavender, a longtime family friend of Yarbrough’s, declined to comment for this column.
Sarasota prioritizes bike trails
The Lee park’s long-term future appears bright, just not soon enough for my tastes.
In Sarasota County, citizens there voted to tax themselves (that’s right), voting 70% in favor of a 2018 referendum that will pour $65 million into expanding the Legacy Trail, which begins at the Venice train depot.
They voted to pay for a millage (tax) increase of 80 (0.08 mill) which means homeowners would pay $16 for each $200,000 of assessed taxable value on a home over the next 20 years to fund the Legacy Trail extension.
About half the funds were needed to buy privately owned lands, and the other half for construction, said Nicole Rissler, the Sarasota county director of parks, recreation and natural resources.
Instead of dead-ending 12.5 miles north of the Venice train depot at Culverhouse Park, the Legacy Trail will be extended this year, all the way to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota. This will add about eight miles to that trail. With a North Port connector also in the works, there will be more than 30 miles of paved bike trails interconnected within the next two years in Sarasota County.
“We anticipate opening segment one to the public later this summer,” Rissler said. “Our hope is that the entire northern extension, including two trailheads, and our third trailhead will come in a little later.”
This will give the Legacy Trail a dozen trailheads.
“Honestly, I think it’s a project that unites our entire county,” Rissler said when asked about the public support for it. “When complete, we really are connecting our entire community, all the way from the city of North Port to the north of Sarasota. It has an appeal to bicyclists but also to people who are going out to take a nightly walk. They’re going to walk their dogs. It is an amenity for the entire community.
“This one I think appealed to such a large geographic area. It’s a huge demographic of different interest levels.”
The Legacy Trail will connect with other bike path projects, including one running south of the Venice train depot.
“We’re excited,” Rissler said. “We really do think this will be a destination park and that people will come here to ride the Legacy Trail.”
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Waiting for more trail
John Yarbrough Linear Park has the same everlasting potential for Lee County.
But unlike in Sarasota, we will have to keep waiting.
There’s $5.5 million earmarked to build a pedestrian bridge that would span across Colonial Boulevard. That money also would be used to build a northern, 1.8-mile extension that will take the linear park from Colonial to Hanson Street in Fort Myers, said Stephanie Schaffer, public information officer for the city.
State funding for these bike trail projects through the SUN Trail program only comes open every so often, and Lee County had to wait its turn, said Don Scott, executive director of the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“We’re trying to get that type of grant money for it, and that was when it was available,” Scott said.
The Lee MPO also secured funding for a feasibility study of building a trail extension farther south of Alico Road.
Right now, cyclists and walkers can venture from “Mile 0” across Six Mile Cypress Parkway and then along a sidewalk running along Michael Rippe Parkway all the way to Alico Road.
“If not, what other ways could we get to connect with what’s going on in Collier County?” Scott said.
In the long term, the Lee MPO and City of Fort Myers also are looking at the Caloosahatchee Downtown Multimodal Alternative Study. This would evaluate options for a bicycle and pedestrian facility crossing the river and connecting downtown Fort Myers with North Fort Myers and its destinations from residential neighborhoods across the river off U.S. 41. This would include options for connecting downtown with the proposed northern extension of John Yarbrough Linear Park at Hanson Street.
Ideally, someone should devise a way to take the trail to downtown.
“This is a project we’ve been waiting on for a long time,” said Dan Moser, a member of the Lee MPO’s bike coordinating committee. “It’s not what I had envisioned. It was supposed to link up at old Metro with the east-west part. That comes from Ortiz and the nature center. Now, it’s a disconnect. So you’ll have to go over the overpass on foot or by bicycle to get to the existing east-west trail. That was one of the main goals.
“But it is what it is. At least it’s something.”
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Pieces of the puzzle
The final piece of the puzzle for government entities building these trails requires buying out the land from private owners.
“I don’t know how many pieces we had to put together to build it, but it was a bunch,” Yarbrough said. “We had to deal with a whole bunch of land owners to purchase little bits. Sometimes it was like 20 feet. So it was a long process of getting organized.”
Enter real estate broker Chuck Mayhugh. He has listed two of these legacy parcels from the Zemel family, which years ago purchased land running alongside the railroad tracks from Collier County to Sarasota County and parts in between.
“Think about this,” Mayhugh said. “Back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, when this was bought, every time someone wanted to cross that railroad, all the way up to the Sarasota County, who do you think they had to talk to? The Zemel family.”
The family still owns two pieces adjacent to the linear park.
One, people can be seen walking their dogs on, to the south of Crystal Drive. People treat it like part of the public park, but it’s actually privately-owned land. It’s an eight-acre strip, 100 feet wide, and it’s in the city limits of Fort Myers. Asking price: $314,000.
Just north of Colonial Boulevard, Mayhugh has listed almost three acres for $197,644.
Both of those available parcels could be bought by the city and added to John Yarbrough Linear Park. The Colonial strip could be a northern trailhead. It would make for an even better legacy that Yarbrough helped create.