A group from these counties saw an opportunity to connect the beaches and forest through a trail network that would encourage visitors and locals to visit the forest and bring low-impact economic opportunities to rural communities in and around the state and the national forests that protect the longleaf pines.


Our Role

A team of leaders from Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Counties in Florida and Escambia County in Alabama was invited by CLN to participate in their Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural Communities and Landscapes national course. Through the workshop, the resulting “Beaches to Longleaf” team discovered best practices for boosting tourism and economic development opportunities throughout the region and created a plan to increase knowledge of and access to their longleaf pine forests.  



A few months later, a local van tour took a small group of trail advocates through the potential trail corridors to visit natural and cultural attractions. The tour reinforced to participants the opportunities available, and in 2016, the team asked CLN to bring the course to the region and build on their ideas by customizing the program to the communities’ interest in regional trail opportunities.  

With CLN’s help, multiple local teams devised cross-county project areas focused on regional trail opportunities for hiking, biking, and water-based recreation, including the creation of several multi-use paths, off-road routes, pedestrian walkways and walking and water trails throughout all counties involved.  

“Through the collective efforts of many who attended the 2016 workshop, we have continued to attend local transportation meetings and to advocate for better bike-ped facilities and connections. Some of the results of this advocacy can be seen in the continued advancement of local projects and planning efforts that further our goal of a connected local trail network that better serves our citizens.”  – Jeff Snow, City of Milton Council member

 

Why This Project Matters

The longleaf pine restoration project is working to connect recreational pathways extending from Pensacola to Alabama's Conecuh National Forest. With a population of nearly 500,000 people, the Pensacola Metropolitan Area is the most heavily populated area in the Florida Panhandle. Connecting these people to surrounding trail opportunities as far away as Alabama’s National Forest creates significant opportunities not only for improving health through outdoor recreation and proximity to nature, but for generating jobs and small business opportunities based around an outdoor recreation economy. 

This cross-county partnership has seen a tremendous growth in awareness and support among elected officials and other advocates for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. One of the elected officials who addressed the 2016 gathering has since become mayor of Pensacola and has committed to construction of a multi-use path along the Bayfront Scenic Highway, which constitutes a large link in the eventual network. He also hired the first complete streets coordinator ever in the area, who is helping to facilitate the creation of multiple bicycle and pedestrian facilities. These efforts have already found success through events like Bike Pensacola Slow Rides, which have featured as many as 450 riders a month, and the Ciclovia event, which allowed 12,000 people to walk or ride their bikes on closed off downtown streets.