Former Charlotte County commissioner Tricia Duffy will never stray far from a perceived responsibility to make life better here.
She's proven that often since she stepped down from a paying job overseeing the county's business to a non-paying job as advocate and volunteer. And, she has friends and associates who have the same drive and determination to make Charlotte County the best it can be.
So, long before she knew of Sunseeker's plans to spend big bucks on landscaping in front of its planned resort in Charlotte Harbor, she and a group of volunteers put their own U.S. 41 landscaping plan — called Facelift 41 — in motion.
For the record, Sunseeker is building a 22-acre resort on the waterfront on U.S. 41 just before you cross the bridge going south into Punta Gorda (as if you didn't know). They have announced plans to plant 150 palm trees, put in thousands of shrubs and plant 10,000 square feet of grass along their side of the highway. It should look pretty nice — especially compared to the other side of the street.
Back in 2015, when Duffy was still a commissioner, she got the idea to try to make U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) more attractive.
"There were not many trees, we just needed to do something," she said. "The commission said if I got the businesses and other folks together, they would support it.
"So, I said let's go raise some money and get something done."
And she did. Thanks to small and large donations from groups like the Tampa Bay Rays and Charlotte Stone Crabs, her group raised $37,000 in just a few months.
"We divided (U.S. 41) into pods and hired a landscaper, Powell Nurseries in Punta Gorda (and later Jones Landscaping)," Duffy said. "It cost about $1,000 per pod to plant trees that were not so big they blocked businesses. That started in 2016."
The landscaping project was nurtured along by about 35 volunteers that included: Shaun Cullinan, Charlotte County Community Development; John Elias, Public Works; Erin Galley, Nolan Insurance; Karly Greene, Public Works; Clif Kewley; Kaley Miller, Punta Gorda Airport; Ray Slipatchuk, Priceless Ink & Toner; Pam Sperry, Realtor; Commissioner Joe Tiseo; Janis Tobin, Valerie Van Valen and Brittany Williamson, Weiler Engineering.
They met with every business up and down U.S. 41 (at least north to Midway). Because of how the right of way was laid out, they jumped from Midway to Veterans Boulevard and stopped at Enterprise Drive. The group also requested each business plant something, or at least put out a potted plant to have something green in front of their store or restaurant.
"Some of them even went so far as to paint their building," Duffy said of the effort to brighten up the county's main road.
"We even got FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) involved. They were doing resurfacing of 41 and agreed to partner with us. If the county would do the maintenance, they would put in irrigation and plant some trees in the median. I was floored. They spent about $600,000 or so.
"We did all that and have about $3,000 left," Duffy said.
She said because of the layout of the road and sidewalks and lack of right of way, there is little more than can be accomplished — "Our mission is complete."
Proving once again that a little determination can go a long way.