Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation

The Florida SUN Trail: Connecting the Panhandle to Key West

Photo by Aista Sall

What is the Florida SUN Trail?

SUN Trails stands for:
Shared
Use
Nonmotorized
Trails.

The SUN Trail network is a network of trails throughout Florida that provides residents with paved, multi-use recreation trails. These trails are corridors connecting parks and other greenspaces by paving and updating abandoned railway beds, canal banks, and utility lines. The goal of these trails is to provide safe passage for through-hikers and bicyclists allowing them to enjoy the natural beauty of Florida without having to worry about crossing busy roadways and intersections. An additional bonus of these trails is that they can also help provide safe passage to Florida’s roaming species.

History of the Florida SUN Trail

In 2015 Florida’s legislation established the SUN Trail program to expand the state’s system of paved multi-use trails used by both pedestrians and bicyclists. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDoT) manages the SUN Trail program and receives funding from new vehicle tag fees. The SUN Trail program not only expands preexisting multi-use trails, but it also functions alongside the Florida Greenways and Trails Systems network, reinforcing Florida’s existing trails and greenspaces. To manage the SUN Trail program the state is split into 7 districts that cover a range of counties and ecological systems in the state. The majority of southeast Florida is categorized as District 4 and covers Broward, Indian River, Martin, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties.

The SUN Trail in District 4: Moving Forward

According to Wibet Hay, District 4’s regional manager, the SUN Trail program in her district is starting to shape up. Indian River, Martian, and St. Lucie counties all have trails being applied for, built, and completed. All three counties in the northern portion of the district are nearly connected by trails and planned trails. With an increase in funding during the February legislative session, Ms. Hay is hopeful of establishing more trails and projects in Broward and Palm Beach counties in the coming months. These two counties are scarce in accessible and safe trails for pedestrians, horse riders, and bicyclists trying to enjoy the old canal, rail, and horse trails that used to stretch from the coast inland. Ms. Hay hopes that Broward and Palm Beach counties will submit applications and plans to join and strengthen the SUN Trail Network in a heavily populated part of Florida.

Florida’s Wildlife Corridor and SUN Trail

With the passing of Senate Bill 106 in early February of this year Florida’s legislature connected multiple conservation and recreation programs including the Florida Wildlife Corridor, the SUN Trail Network, and Florida’s Greenways and Trails System. According to the press release the goal of SB 106 is to use the SUN Trail Network to further strengthen Florida’s Wildlife Corridor and requires FDoT to use “previously disturbed lands” such as old railroad beds and canal banks to minimize gaps in between trail segments and towns, facilitating economic growth for communities scattered throughout the Wildlife Corridor and supporting trail-based tourism.

Fostering Community Support

When speaking with Ms. Hay about the hurdles that SUN Trail projects can face while in development, she noted that any opposition, even the slightest, can throw a project off track. On a hopeful note, Ms. Hay stated “If you build it they will come.” We reminisced about the initial opposition to Vista View Park when it was first built, but today the park sees ample activity with families, birthday parties, and people jogging and biking the trails scattered throughout the park. Something she hopes to see happen in Palm Beach and Broward counties when the SUN Trail brings projects to these areas.

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.
Exit mobile version