Now that classes have ended for the summer, I have had time to make it back to what I call my hometown; Ocala, Florida. I have noticed there are roadway improvements currently underway in parts of the city to accommodate the continuation of the Cross Florida Greenway, and I felt it was as great a time as any to discuss the proposed 110-mile nature corridor that will traverse the state of Florida.
In the mid-1960’s, the federal government approved the construction of a barge canal to connect the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, in order to create a more efficient route for barge deliveries to the east coast of Florida. After almost 7 years, 1/3 of the canal constructed and many suits filed against the continued dredging of the canal, president Nixon signed an executive order suspending further work on the Barge Canal. Better late then never. With further help from president George Bush, the Governor and Cabinet of the State of Florida signed bills that de-authorized the Cross Florida Barge Canal project and repurposed all acqusitioned land intended for the canal into recreation and conservation land. Officially named the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway (in honor of the individual who led the fight to stop the Cross Florida Barge Canal project) in 1998, the Greenway has been steadily coming to fruition.
Beginning at the Gulf of Mexico by Inglis, Florida, the Greenway moves inland through Dunnellon, then northeast over I-75 by way of a land bridge to Ocala, around the Ocala National Forest and eventually connecting to the St. Johns River near Palatka. The trail system includes land on either side of the old dredged canal, and utilizes land along existing waterways, existing national forests, preserves and conservation areas. This ideal use of land creates the ability to provide for an array of activities within and along the Greenway. Such activities include walking, mountain biking, cycling, hiking, horse-back riding, and canoeing. There are dozens of trailheads providing access to almost 224 miles of hiking, biking and horse-back riding trails that also travel through 4 distinct Florida ecological regions; Withlacoochee Lowlands, Ocala Uplands, Ocklawaha River Valley and Etoniah Basin.
It’s great to see Florida, although a little behind on the times as far as current/future urban development strategies are concerned, is very progressive with using public greenspace to connect its residents. I believe the Cross Florida Greenway will be a key section of the much larger Florida Trail and will become the spine of outdoor activity for Central Florida from which more community based trail systems can develop, which is currently lacking.
* Check back for a park review of the Baseline to Marshall Swamp trailhead in the Ocala area where road construction is underway to provide underpasses for the trails.
Will Ramhold is a contributing writer for Landscape Invocation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Florida, and is a current graduate student studying architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.