As the 2009 fiscal year comes to a close and stimulus monies for “shovel ready” projects filter down from Washington, work on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail will intensify through the month of June.
When Monroe County drafted an initial master plan for the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (FKOHT) nearly a decade ago, they ultimately committed to providing a bicycle and pedestrian friendly bike path that connected each of the county’s different communities.
The trail would not only serve to connect communities, school and businesses along the main artery of the island chain, it would also serve as a safe route for alternative transportation. Walking, hiking, biking and kayaking – become increasingly popular as people eye their spending more closely these days – offer creative and low-impact ways to explore the incredibly unique natural environment.
Trish Smith, Construction Projects Manager for FKOHT, said little if any impact as all the improvements are conducted in the FDOT right of way. In the Middle Keys, between Mile Markers 60-63 on Grassy Key, drivers may anticipate possible lane shifts, as FDOT projects are also under way.
“I have 10 projects under way throughout Keys in next two months, so we appreciate everybody’s patience with the work going on,” Smith explained. “In the end, we’ll have a world-class trail from Key Largo to Key West.”
Retrofitting of the Old Bow Channel Bridge and Old Park Channel Bridge in the Lower Keys are currently under way, and work on the Lower Sugarloaf Bridge is slated to begin this month.
Since DEP manages 23 of Monroe County’s historic bridges, the first round of trail improvements focuses on cleaning and smoothing small cracks in several of those structures. Workers will also aim to cover exposed rebar and make the bridge portions of the trail more aesthetically pleasing.
Smith indicated that work on the Old Channel 2 Bridge in Islamorada will include the installation of fishing platforms similar to those already in place at Tom’s Harbor and Long Key Bridges.
Cristina Lindley, Outreach Coordinator with FDEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails, said the improvement projects currently being conducted along the Trail are very exciting.
“It has taken years to get to this stage,” she explained. “There is so much paperwork to process to get to this stage.”
She’s particularly pleased with the construction of the Key Largo Trailhead at the northern tip of the trail that will begin this month as well. A welcome center as well as office space and installation of more than a hundred new trees will be included in that portion of Trail improvement. Lindley indicated that Heritage Trail staff is currently working in conjunction with Crane Point in Marathon and the Key West Botanical Garden to establish working trailheads as part of the master plan.
“This has really been a wonderful opportunity to work in conjunction with the Florida Keys Scenic Corridor Alliance in their efforts to gain designation as a Scenic Highway,” she added.
In conjunction with FKOHT’s improvement projects over the next four years, DEP Trail Specialist Monica Woll is recruiting volunteers to “adopt” a portion of the trail as it runs through their neighborhood.
From friends and neighbors to civic groups and master gardeners, Woll has collected a handful of individuals throughout the Keys that have adopted either a portion of the trail, a bridge or even a park bench. Woll said many of the volunteers were picking up litter and cleaning the trails on their own watch when she found them and acknowledged their efforts.
“I have one volunteer in Key Largo who dedicates at least two hours each day to cleaning a portion of the trail,” Woll explained.
Volunteers may commit as much or as little time to cleaning and maintaining the trail as they wish. Some of the volunteers pledge only an hour a month, but any and every effort is welcome.
Local school groups like the Coral Shores Leadership Class, students at Plantation Key School and Key West High School have all given their time to collect garbage along a portion of the trail.
“The next step will be partnering with businesses along the trail,” Woll added.
As construction begins later this year on the Ramrod to Big Pine segment of the Overseas Heritage Trail, Smith said there is the possibility of “driveway issues” but field representatives will be working closely with local businesses so as not to block access and interrupt the flow of traffic.
For more information about improvements and new construction along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, please visit www.fkoht.org or call (305) 853-3571.