By DOTTY NIST
Plans for a two-mile-long multi-use trail for low-speed motorized vehicles along CR-30A were presented to the public at an Oct. 29 public workshop.
A group of 10 residents and business people attended the workshop at the District 5 office in Grayton Beach, along with several county staff members.
Cliff Knauer of Preble-Rish, engineering consultant for the county, presented details on the trail, which is to extend from CR-83 in Blue Mountain Beach to CR-283 in Grayton Beach.
The county is applying for a grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Greenways and Trails Program to make the $553,000 trail project a reality. The 10-foot-wide asphalt trail would run along the north side of CR-30A on county-owned right-of-way, approximately 10 to 15 feet from the existing pavement. Knauer said the trail would occupy a portion of the right-of-way that is already cleared. Approximately 390 feet of timber bridges is part of the project, in locations where the trail would cross three coastal dune lakes, Big Redfish Lake, Little Redfish Lake, and Alligator Lake.
The trail would be for the use of low-speed motorized vehicles that are street legal.
By Florida law these vehicles are able to drive on roads or road sections with a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less. Many community streets in south Walton County have speed limits of 35 miles per hour or less, as does much of CR-30A. However, there are higher speed limits on CR-30A between Grayton Beach and WaterColor and between the area just east of Deer Lake and WaterSound.
The Timpoochee Trail bicycle-pedestrian trail occupies the south side of CR-30A in the area of the project. The bike trail is posted with signs prohibiting motorized vehicles.
Knauer said plans for motorized vehicle trails along CR-30A in the project location and others had been approved by the county as part of the Genesis study in 2006.
County commissioners initially approved the grant application for the motorized trail on Sept. 25. If obtained, the grant would require a 20-percent match from the county, which would be provided through in-kind services.
Knauer commented that the project would be useful in reducing traffic on CR-30A.
Residents expressed frustration about problems with golf carts and low-speed vehicles in south Walton County, including careless and dangerous driving and underage drivers. On attendee asked if it would not make more sense to regulate the use of these vehicles more strictly before thinking about “giving them a trail.”
Blue Mountain Beach resident Richard Fowlkes said he could see pros and cons for the project. He spoke to the need for an overall plan for all of CR-30A before moving forward and questioned the value of constructing only this short section.
Another resident termed the two-mile trail as “a road to nowhere, essentially.”
Concern was expressed that the trails might endanger the dune lakes.
Knauer responded, “30A is full of intrinsic resources that need to be protected.” Residents, he continued, should see that those resources are safeguarded. The county commission, he stated, had taken protection of the environment seriously when the Genesis plan was put in place. That process, he noted, had included a great deal of public input.
Matthew Jones suggested lowering the speed limit on all of CR-30A as an alternative to building the trail. Knauer responded that this had been considered at one point but that standard procedure is to set speed limits at the speed driven by 85 percent of motorists.
There were suggestions for other uses for the money being spent on the trail, including a CR-30A shuttle and use for bridges along the existing bike/pedestrian path. Knauer agreed that a trolley or similar transit would be a good idea but said that no one had been able to “get traction” with such an initiative. He said the bike path bridge project would require $1.3 million in funding, explaining that the county would only be able to obtain $75,000 from the Greenways and Trails Program if they applied for a grant to be used on a nonmotorized trail.
Knauer clarified that he had not been representing the community group the Friends of 30A when requesting that the county commission approve the grant application for the motorized trail. He said he had been introduced as a member of the Friends of 30A when addressing the commissioners.
County staff member Vivian Shamel said the Friends of 30A had not met during the time since grant application came under consideration.
Knauer thanked attendees for their participation in the workshop and said that their comments would be taken into consideration. He anticipated other opportunities for public input at other points during the process, including at the time the design plans are completed.
Knauer said the county would know in approximately 90 days if it would be receiving the grant funds. He estimated that permitting for the bridges would take three to four months and that the trail would take about two years to build.