One of the Mount Dora area’s most anticipated recreational projects is the Wekiva Trail. The large project is a cycling and hiking trail that would connect Mount Dora to other existing trails through thousands of acres of preservation land and destinations such as Rock Springs Run, Wekiva Springs State Park, as well as both coasts of Florida. Here are eight things you need to know about the project:
1. In a nutshell, what is the Wekiva Trail? It's a 15-mile, multi-use trail that will provide hikers, cyclists and nature enthusiasts a regional connection among Lake, Seminole and Orange Counties. Mount Dora would be connected by this trail to the Central Florida Coast to Coast Trail which covers more than 200 miles from Cape Canaveral National Seashore to downtown St. Petersburg on the opposite coast.
2. Where will the main trailhead be located? The main trailhead is near Camp Challenge and the CR 46A interchange in Mount Plymouth/Sorrento. Downtown Mount Dora and the East Lake Regional Park will also have trailheads.
3. What is the process to complete the trail? The project has four sequential phases: Project Development & Environmental Study (PDE), Design, Right of Way (ROW) acquisition and lastly, the construction phase.
4. Who owns the train tracks? Well, that has always been where it gets a little tricky. CSX Transportation owns the real estate the tracks are on. The tracks, other infrastructure, and the rights to operate on them are owned by the operator, Florida Central Railroad.
ABOVE: Mount Dora's historic railroad trestle on will be at the Tremain St. trailhead.
5. What is the trail's current stage of development? The trail consists of four segments in different phases as follows:
Segment 1: Mount Dora’s Tremain Street trestle to Sorrento Elementary School and East Lake Regional Park: The segment is planned to follow the existing railbed by either removing the tracks or running parallel to them. This piece has some sticky funding issues, as explained below. Stage: Neither Lake County nor the City of Mount Dora has allocated the agreed-upon $1 million each to pay Florida Central Railroad to abandon the operational rights and preserve the ROW as a designated transportation corridor. Before Mount Dora & Lake County will commit to their halves of the $2 million payment to Florida Central Railroad, they want to know FDOT is committed to buying the real estate from CSX. If that doesn’t come to fruition, a new study would be done to examine putting the trail along SR 46 into Mount Dora
Segment 2. The section goes from the main trailhead at Mount Plymouth/Sorrento’s Camp Challenge west to CR 437 and East Lake Regional Park next to Sorrento Elementary. Stage: This section is currently under design and partial FDOT ROW funding is secured. Construction funding is still pending.
Segment 3. This stretch will feature the future regional trialhead at Camp Challenge. This portion of the trail will run parallel to a new toll-free, two-lane road that will be next to an elevated portion of State Road 429. The trail will be separated by a safety barrier and connect to Seminole County and the Lake Markham Trail, which will connect it to the Central Florida Coast to Coast Trail (C2C Trail). Stage: Under construction; open by 2020
Segment 4. This portion will start at trailhead by Camp Challenge and extend south along the west side of SR 429 into Orange County to CR 435 on land owned by Lake County. Stage: In design phase. Funded for construction; open 2021.
Possible Segment 5: Mount Dora to Tavares section will be entering a feasibility study this year.
6. What will happen to the Tremain Street railroad trestle? The current plan is to preserve and adapt the trestle for walkers and cyclists by replacing the train tracks with a deck and adding a safety railing. The use of the trestle for the trail was the best option to ensure its preservation.
7. What is the earliest portion of the trail to be completed? The easternmost segments of the trail will open around 2020-21 from Camp Challenge (CR 46A’s interchange) east toward Seminole County or south into Orange County.
ABOVE: Rendering of renovations to Mount Dora's historic trestle.
8. What will the Wekiva Trail mean for Mount Dora? The completed trail project would provide a showcase regional trail for the residents of Mount Dora and Lake County and an eco-tourism opportunity to attract enthusiasts from throughout Florida and elsewhere.
"This is a transformational project," said T.J. Fish, a planning consultant who for 13 years headed the Lake-Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization and has been working on the trail project for the last seven years. "For Mount Dora to connect to the Central Florida Coast to Coast Trail with a spur from downtown through the Wekiva Greenway, a heightened level of economic development and quality of life will be experienced." Fish points to communities like Winter Garden and Dunedin that experienced rebirths as a result of the Florida C2C Trail.
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