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‘Neighborhoods determine their story’: Emerald Trail aims to connect communities in Jacksonville

Pieces of Jacksonville’s Emerald Trail are inching closer to reality.

The master plan, led by Groundwork Jacksonville, is to create a 30-mile network of bicycle and pedestrian trails that will bring communities together.

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Groundwork Jacksonville is the city’s nonprofit partner in building the Emerald Trail and restoring McCoys Creek and Hogans Creek.

The entire project should wrap by 2029 but some areas will be complete this year.

2020 STORY: Emerald Trail project injecting money into Jacksonville’s Urban Core

Action News Jax’s Kennedy Dendy met Groundwork Jacksonville CEO Kay Ehas at the trail to talk about what community members can expect.

“The Emerald Trail will connect 14 neighborhoods, which includes downtown,” Ehas said. “It’s really the historic neighborhoods surrounding downtown that it’s going to connect. It’ll connect them to each other -- to the two creeks, Hogan’s and McCoys, the St. Johns River and downtown.”

It will also link 16 schools, two colleges and nearly 21 parks.

JUNE 2021: 30-mile Emerald Trail one step closer to reality

According to Groundwork Jacksonville:

  • Segment 1: LaVilla Link is under construction and expected to be complete by the end of the year.

The LaVilla Link runs for 1.3 miles. It starts in Brooklyn, goes through LaVilla and connects to the existing S Line Rail Trail.

  • Segment 2 – Hogan Street design is nearly complete and construction will begin Spring 2023
  • McCoys Creek – Construction is underway
  • Hogans Creek – Preliminary design of the creek restoration has begun

The Emerald Trail will restore McCoys Creek and Hogans Creek, and install green infrastructure, to reduce flooding and improve water quality and habitat for birds, bees and wildlife.

“People love to explore anyhow … it’s going to connect everything,” said John, who has lived in Jacksonville his entire life.

DECEMBER 2021: Design team unveils renderings of section of Jacksonville’s planned 30-mile Emerald Trail

As leaders say, this is about more than a trail.

This is about improving quality of life, providing 30 miles of safe transportation and promoting healthy activities -- along with many other benefits.

“It’s going through historically Black neighborhoods that were disconnected by the highway back in the 60s -- and then kind of more highways and roads that came along,” Ehas said. “When we take people on tours, they say, ‘I’ve never been to this part of Jacksonville.’ One of the things I love the most is the social connections that will be made.”

APRIL 2022: Earth Day on Jacksonville’s Emerald Trail

In Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s final budget presentation Thursday, he talked about what’s complete and underway across the city, including this project.

“To date, we have begun or completed over 17 large-scale projects, including renovations to iconic Jacksonville landmarks like Friendship Fountain, the creation of new shared-use pathways and greenspaces along the Emerald Trail and in the LaVilla District … ”

Ehas said this project is a public-private partnership.

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“We couldn’t do it without the city,” Ehas said.

She said the city is funding segments 1 and 2, as well as McCoys Creek and Hogans Creek.

This comes as $132 million has already been covered by the local option gas tax approved by the Jacksonville City Council in May 2021.

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The Emerald Trail was officially adopted by Jacksonville City Council back in March 2019 and is expected to be finished in 2029.

“We’re going to work with neighborhoods to figure out how they want to tell their story through art and signage along the trail,” Ehas said. “So neighborhoods determine their story.”

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