NORTH PORT — The next segment of The Legacy Trail may get mapped out in a virtual meeting Wednesday open to the public.

Sarasota County is calling it the North Port Connector to its popular recreation trail that runs from Sarasota to Venice.

It is linking so-called rails-to-trails movement of walking and biking trails in Florida.

Many of those trails are converted rail lines, hundreds of miles criss-crossing the state, linking cities, providing transportation alternatives, drawing visitors and boosting eco-tourism.

A North Port Connector would run 4.5 miles of paved pathways along the Deer Prairie Creek Preserve, “where one can go to experience native habitats, including pine flatwoods, prairie hammocks, and seasonal wetlands,” according to information on the Friends of Legacy Trail website. That nonprofit was started in 2016 to further The Legacy Trail, a Sarasota County park.

“Once the connector gets to North Port, it’ll be a wonderful asset to our community here,” said Sharon Donovan, Friends of the Legacy Trail-North Port coordinator.

Wednesday’s Zoom meeting gives updated project information on 90% design plans for that segment of the project. Log-in registration is required by Tuesday. Check, find the Capital Projects page and click the registration line for details. Administrators with Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources host the 5 p.m. meeting.

Preliminary work on three connections of the Legacy Trail from Venice into North Port are already underway.

Those three connections are:

• Powerline Trail, connecting Border Road through the Carlton and Big Slough Preserves to Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park.

• Deer Prairie Creek Route, connecting the east end of Forbes Trail to the south entrance of Deer Prairie Creek;

• Schewe Route running along Interstate 75 before turning south and connecting with Warm Mineral Springs.

Sarasota County’s original Legacy Trail dates to around 2004, the county purchasing a former railroad corridor for about $12 million. That 12.5-mile project runs from Sarasota to Venice. It is popular with walkers, bikers, inline skaters and others, so popular, in fact, that devices had been added along the trail to count daily users.

Steve Martin, a volunteer with Friends of the Legacy Trail, records trail usage, tracking the daily numbers on several websites. Possibly due to the coronavirus, user numbers last year rose to about 400,000 from around 292,000 in 2019.

Trail use has exploded, Donovan said.

That indicates: “a great interest in outdoor recreation, especially during the pandemic, when people are looking for safe things to do,” he said.

Sarasota County voters in 2018 approved a bonding referendum for a Legacy Trail Extension into downtown Sarasota and the connectors to North Port.

North Port’s Mayor Jill Luke pushed for a connecting trail to the city, as she had covered “every inch” of the Legacy Trail, riding, rollerblading and walking it.

“It’s outdoors, it’s nature,” she said. “I love it.”


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