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Good Neighbor Trail Gap Now Open

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BROOKSVILLE — It was a beautiful day for a bike ride and an even better day for bicyclists throughout Hernando County.

On Wednesday morning, the ribbon cutting and grand opening of the Good Neighbor Trail Gap was held at Tom Varn Park. The large crowd of citizens and cyclists gathered under and around a large tent as FDOT District Seven Secretary David Gwynn stepped up to the podium.

The proceedings began with the presenting of colors by Hernando High School’s Air Force JROTC Color Guard before Gwynn led the Pledge of Allegiance. Gwynn noted the number in attendance, stating that of all the ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings, the trail projects always seem to see the biggest turnouts.

The history of the Good Neighbor Trail dates back nearly a decade, as it is part of the Shared Use Non-Motorized (SUN) Trail program that was established in 2015 to develop a state-crossing network. When the network is finished, it will connect nine counties through central Florida “from Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean,” said Gwynn.

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The completion of this two and quarter mile portion of the trail will allow those with “non-motorized traveling options” to experience the heart of Brooksville. The Good Neighbor Trail stretches through both Russell Park and Tom Varn Park and over State Road 50. Included in the path are bridges over State Road 50 and the CSX Railroad at Broad Street and a culvert extension crossing of Wombles Creek. In its entirety, the Good Neighbor Trail is a roughly 10-mile-long bicycle path that spans Brooksville.

The SUN Trail program receives its funding annually through the redistribution of new vehicle tag revenues that are deposited into the state transportation trust fund. Brooksville’s stretch of the intrastate bike path saw its start in 2016 when an application was sent to FDOT requesting SUN Trail funding for the building of the Good Neighbor Trail. The project was supported, chosen, and began receiving funding in 2017, with allocations for funding taking place yearly through 2023.

“The Florida Department of State’s Main Street Community Program provides technical assistance with the goal of revitalizing historic downtowns and encouraging economic development in the context of historic preservation. Main Streets help build community pride and partnerships while celebrating downtown.”

The timing of the ribbon cutting was serendipitous as it took place during National Travel and Tourism Week. Members of the Good Neighbor Trail Advisory Committee, the Brooksville Vision Foundation, Brooksville Main Street, and local business owners all worked hard to bring the project to fruition, but FDOT’s investment of millions of dollars into the community of Brooksville has also “made this dream a reality,” noted Brooksville City Council Member David Bailey.

This path will allow the city to benefit economically from increased foot and bike traffic from locals and tourists from around the state. With cycling being an industry that nets $6 billion a year for the state of Florida, that number is likely to grow further with the completion of the bike trail. Bailey anticipates that visiting cyclists will stimulate the local economy by helping local businesses grow and reducing the tax burden.

“What this means for the community: it is a fellowship; it is a togetherness. It is going to bring families together […] Any money that we generate positively from this trail will benefit us, but more importantly, I believe it is going to bring new people to our city. They are going to see the beauty of our city […] It is kind of exciting, and it is going to help our infrastructure with bringing the revenue in,” said Bailey.

Sadly, there is one man who will not be able to experience Brooksville’s pristine, city-crossing bike path – Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Steve Diez. West Central Florida CTST Vice Chair Jim McLean spoke glowingly of his friend, Diez, who was a transportation planner and a key component in the completion of the Good Neighbor Trail before his passing.

“We have a great deal of thanks to give to him,” said McLean. “He would be very proud. He was a good friend of mine […] He was awesome in getting this job done. I praise him for it every single day […] Each and every one of you that live here, pass through here needs to be proud of that, enjoy it, and embrace it.”

Jim McLean (right) celebrates the cutting of the ribbon and the opening of the Good Neighbor Trail with Brooksville City Council member David Bailey. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Jim McLean (right) celebrates the cutting of the ribbon and the opening of the Good Neighbor Trail with Brooksville City Council member David Bailey. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
FDOT District Secretary David Gwynn speaks at Wednesday's ribbon cutting ceremony. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
FDOT District Secretary David Gwynn speaks at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
[Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Hernando High School's Air Force JROTC Color Guard presents the colors at Wednesday's ribbon cutting.
Hernando High School’s Air Force JROTC Color Guard presents the colors at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
An attendee at Wednesday's grand opening holds a sign in the memory of Steve Diez, a transportation planner who was critical in the completion of the trail. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
An attendee at Wednesday’s grand opening holds a sign in the memory of Steve Diez, a transportation planner who was critical in the completion of the trail.
[Photo by Austyn Szempruch]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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