73 Acres Added to Leesburg Greenway Trail (FL)

Leesburg, FL, 12/22/2005 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, announced today that it has sold to the City of Leesburg a 73-acre parcel that will add a key segment to the greenway trail crossing the center of Leesburg, giving residents a new pedestrian and bike trail connecting neighborhoods, businesses, parks and other places of interest.

In November 2004, TPL purchased this site along 6.5 miles of former railroad corridor from CSX Transportation, Inc. Upon TPL’s purchase, the City of Leesburg leased the property with the option to purchase from TPL, allowing the city to begin trail improvements including a paved recreational trail and rest and picnic areas. TPL agreed to hold the property until funds from the city and the state’s Florida Communities Trust grant program became available. The terms of the lease were met today, and the city is now the owner of the property.

“The Trust for Public Land was instrumental in our efforts to purchase the rail corridor within our community, said Ron Stock, city manager for Leesburg. “This was not an easy project and it required the skill, unflagging dedication and investment of literally hundreds of hours of time on the part of TPL’s staff to make it happen. As a result, our citizens’ dream of a regional trail system encircling our community is coming to fruition. But, it would not have happened without TPL’s involvement.”

The X-shaped trail corridor runs through the heart of the city, adjacent to Leesburg High School, Fountain Lake and the downtown area. This trail will become part of the Leesburg Greenway Trail, a major redevelopment effort intended to reconnect neighborhoods separated by large roadways and help preserve local historic sites such as the 1912 train depot on Palmetto Street. The Greenway will also provide links to other existing nature trails, parks and local cultural places of interest. Ultimately, the Leesburg trail will connect with Lake County and regional trail networks.

“Working with the dedicated city staff on a project that will have an immediate effect on downtown recreation and commuting living has been awesome,” said Doug Hattaway, project manager for The Trust for Public Land. “When faced with difficult decisions as the project work continued, the city consistently demonstrated its commitment to improving the community’s quality of life and kept the project moving forward. We look forward to biking in Leesburg.”

The idea of turning railroad corridors into bicycle/pedestrian trails gained popularity in the 1980s after Congress passed the federal Rails to Trails Act, permitting railroad rights-of-way no longer in use for trains to be converted to recreational trails. With 397 miles of rail trails open and another 420 additional miles in planning or under construction, Florida is a nationally recognized leader in recycling abandoned rail corridors.

TPL has been involved in several projects with CSX around the state. In Sarasota County last year, TPL purchased a 12.8-mile segment of the old CSX rail line that once carried circus trains to the winter home of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It now serves as a trail linking Sarasota to Venice, Laurel, and Nokomis. In Tallahassee, TPL acquired a key property that will help connect Florida State University to the Tallahassee/St. Marks Historic Rail Trail. In addition, TPL plans to acquire this month from CSX a 2.1-mile rail corridor in St. Petersburg that will serve as an extension to the 34-mile Pinellas Trail.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2 million acres of land in 46 states. In Florida, TPL has protected more than 300 sites – over 200,000 acres at a market value of about $500 million. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission. For more information please contact us at 850-222-7911 or visit us on the web at www.tpl.org.