By LEAH STRATMANN
Dave Rauschkolb, one of the people behind the Scenic Pride Initiative, which was in turn one of the groups vehemently opposed to the signs erected by the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC), called a meeting last week to try and find consensus among all the groups and to integrate all the pending signage in Walton County.
Representatives from the TDC, Friends of Scenic 30A, Friends of Timpoochee Trail, the Scenic 98 Corridor Association, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC), Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA), and the South Walton Community Council (SWCC) all came to the TDC conference room to discuss how to go forward. At issue are wayfinding and community signs for the 30A corridor, safety and mile markers for Timpoochee Trail, and information and educational signs for the Coastal Dune Lakes.
“We all need to work together in a positive way to create signage we can agree on and be proud of,” Rauschkolb noted.
Acting director of the TDC Sonny Mares told the crowd the community signs have all come down, but the directional signs are still up. “We will try to utilize the investment we have in some way, maybe for a college or something. We are excited about this meeting and want to work with all the groups to make this work for the community,” he said.
“The silver lining in all of this is working with the TDC and taking some heat off the TDC,” Rauschkolb said.
Leigh Moore, the executive director of the Scenic 98 Corridor Association, which covers an area from the Bay County line to the Okaloosa County line, said there was some possibility of using the big blue signs along that corridor, but more research has to be done. “The guidelines say signs should be no wider than 12 feet and no taller than 12 feet and obviously these signs do not fit that,” she said.
Rauschkolb commented that it was important that so many organizations were represented and encouraged everyone to speak up and speak their minds.
There was a lot of discussion about the signs which will be placed soon along the Timpoochee Trail. Tony Rodriguez of Signtek, the Valparaiso company selected to fabricate the signs, attended the meeting. There was also a large book showing the proposed signs for the trail. The signage was designed and suggested by Jonathan Mugmon and based on guidelines from the Florida Green Book, which details signage for multi-use trails. The safety signs have been funded and approved at a cost of $164,000.
Commissioner Cindy Meadows, who has taken the lead in getting signs put up along the trail, said the money came from recreational plat fees, partly by funds given by the TDC and the remainder by the county. The proposed signs will number 120, which struck many in the audience as far too many signs.
Dan McClary, representing the Friends of the Timpoochee Trail said, “The biggest issue is blind intersections and streets. We have been trying for many years to get this addressed. A year ago we went up and down the entire path, looking at it and pointing out the dangers. A bike traveling 12 miles per hour covers 18 feet per second. We just want to make it a little bit safer. I think we need all 120 signs,” he said.
Some took issue with the fact that some of the signs shown in the book had stripes on the poles. Meadows said every safety issue was looked at. “We are thinking about county liability here as well,” Meadows emphasized. “These discussions can’t go on longer than a week or two. The fabricator has the materials and this is ready to go as soon as everybody signs off on this. The county will be doing the crosswalks at the same time the signs go up,” she concluded.
“I will let the color police, and I don’t mean that disparagingly, decide what color but from a safety point of view, this was approved in March 2006 with a sign consultant. The design was made more than a year ago. A multi-use path is just that. I’m a big fan of pavement markings too,” McClary said.
McClary also questioned why the sign consultant was absent from the meeting. He had been in touch with Mugman, who works out of Tallahassee and determined there was money left on the contract and he was free to attend, but apparently had not gotten and invitation form Commissioner Meadows. “It’s absolute b.s. that he isn’t here. He’s the expert,” McClary noted. The proposal calls for five warning signs per mile along the 18.6 miles of the trail.
Rosemary Beach town manager Jim Bagby said, “Our sign expert said put up the big blue signs and he was wrong.”
Meanwhile, the Signtek representative was being peppered with questions he could not answer. He was asked if a mock-up of the signs could be made and brought to the next meeting, planned for Tuesday, April 29 at 1 p.m. He said he didn’t have to authority to create a mock-up and would need something from the county allowing the work to be done. Those in attendance were unwilling to accept the signs proposed until they could see what the stripes would look like.
“Any change along 30A freaks people out,” Rauschkolb noted. “Right now we have to reach some consensus in this room about the signs. The biggest problem we had with the big blue signs was that they were big, blue and ugly. We had no problem with the info on them.”
Rauschkolb said at the moment he knew of no plan for new TDC signs. “What I’m suggesting is the long term Timpoochee Trail plan has different phases and the community can use them as a template so the signs all look alike.”
“We need to see a prototype,” Bagby emphasized. “We want an integrated plan with mile markers.”
The CBA delegation noted they have the funding for their signs and they need to get going soon as the grant money will go away if progress is not made. There are also some funding possibilities available by virtue of 30A being named as a scenic corridor, but no details have been investigated.