Florida Greenways: Trails and Corridors

Photo by Sonja Pedersen

The Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation

The Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2002 by Dale Allen. The Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation’s mission is to promote non-motorized trails to connect Florida’s communities and greenways, revitalize rural centers along Florida’s trails, and provide safe transportation alternatives for cyclists and individuals looking to get away from Florida’s hectic roads. Though the Foundation has a number of important missions, the driving force is the safety of cyclists. It is a mission to grow the cycling community and protect friends. During our talk, Allen remembered a fatal accident his friends were involved in nearly 20 years ago, saying “That’s why a lot of us got active. We said… No more. We’re going to do something about this.”

Green Infrastructure

As a part of the mission to connect trails across Florida, Allen explained that there is a need to utilize green infrastructure already in place in the state. But what is green infrastructure? Traditionally, green infrastructure is ecologically and environmentally friendly, and sustainable development. According to Allen examples of green infrastructure for trails and wildlife corridors can look like:

  • Powerline corridors
  • Berms created from dredging canals
  • Old roadways from World War II
  • Old logging trails
  • Old, disused raised railbeds

Recycling Abandoned Railroads

With Florida’s history of intensive development, there is a lot of old, man-made infrastructure scattered through the wilder areas of the state. For Allen, it is important for us to find, and give new life to these now overgrown pathways, making use of what was once there and refraining from opening new scars on Florida’s ecosystems:

“It’s important that we understand the green infrastructure that was created by our predecessors over the last 100-150 years in Florida. It was created at significant damage to the natural environment, but Florida is a state with great amounts of rain and long growing periods and most of that damage has long since been erased and it’s been replaced, in the case of elevated railroad beds, so that you can walk and bike on top of them and not be in the swamp.”

Instead of looking upon past developmental infrastructure with shame, it is high time perspectives shifted and conservation efforts begin to use these old scars to their advantage.

Seeing Florida as it was Meant to be Seen

Photo by Emily Keen

Paddling or biking along these old, raised trails can provide a unique perspective to tourists and residents alike. These trails give individuals the opportunity to see bears, birds, and bobcats along with rabbits, squirrels, and deer in a more natural habitat, not trekking through your backyard. Getting away from Florida’s beaches and urban centers tourists and residents alike can begin to understand the wildness that continues to beat away in Florida’s heart. Allen says, “And boy, that’s the way to see Florida. It’s still a very wild and beautiful place.”

Connecting the Trails = Connecting the Corridor

When asked about the commonality between the missions and goals of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundations, Allen stated that both organizations share a common goal in connecting the corridors and greenspaces of the state. The commonality comes with this, humans and animals need to cross roadways and properties in the same locations. What is safe for hikers and cyclists is safe for the species that call Florida home and travel its length. “So, trails, I think are a leading edge for these wildlife corridors. Since we both have the same problems with cars and trucks and their danger, if we can make the trails safer it will make it safer for wildlife.”

Re-establishing the Flow of Biodiversity

A primary goal of wildlife corridors is to reestablish a flow of diversity that has been cut off due to human development. By connecting trails, Florida’s wildlife corridor will be reinforced, and biological diversity will begin to flow more freely. When speaking on the issue of biodiversity and its loss and how wildlife corridors and trails can help with this issue, Allen said,

“Right now, we’re in a race against the clock to see how much of Florida we’re going to lose before we connect it because a lot of these wildlife species are so balkanized right now, they can’t move around. They’re genetically isolated islands of life. It’s just not viable. We know that when wildlife gets balkanized like that into these little islands, the first thing that disappears is biological diversity.”

Catalin Grant Storytelling Intern
Catalin is a fourth-generation South Floridian who has had the opportunity to experience the diverse ecosystems that Florida has to offer. She grew up in Davie, Florida, and Tallahassee, Florida, and earned her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida. She is working towards her M.A. in Anthropology from Florida Atlantic University. Her current thesis work examines the relationship between generational cattle ranchers, conservation, and development within the state of Florida.