A prominent organization seeking to turn old railway lines into bike and walking trails honored incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner this week for his work on the newly approved 275-mile trail network linking St. Petersburg to Titusville.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit with more than 100,000 members, is one of America’s most influential trails, biking and walking organizations, presented Andy Gardiner this week with its Outstanding Legislative Achievement Award.
“The experience of places across America shows us that trails reap enormous economic, transportation and health benefits,” says Ken Bryan, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Florida state director. “The people of Florida have a great champion in Andy Gardiner – one that cares about the success of Florida’s businesses and the health of Florida’s people, and is willing to stick his neck out to fight for them.”
Gardiner was the driving force behind the funding for the Coast-to-Coast Connector, a project to link existing trails into a 275-mile network that joins Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Overall, the project will construct about 66 miles of roadway for hiking, walking and biking.
Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Scott signed $15.5 million as part of the 2014/15 state budget to begin construction of the project.
Gardiner, a triathlete and fitness buff, also oversaw improvements of Florida’s State Transportation Trust Fund, allowing state and local administrators, with help from the federal government, to develop a biking and walking infrastructure.
The previous Florida recipient of the Conservancy’s Achievement Award was Sen. Jack Latvala for his work preserving the Greenways and Trails Program and securing funding for trail building.
“In many ways, all eyes are on Florida, in terms of trails and active transportation,” Bryan says. “On one hand, we have some of the most beautiful recreation areas in the country, but our communities top the list of the most dangerous places to walk and bike. It is a state of great contradiction, of tremendous potential and of missed opportunities.
“Amongst all this, Sen. Gardiner stands out as one of Florida’s most important leaders.”