january 18, 2017

A meeting of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners was advertised for a special Parks and Trails session on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, at 6:00 p.m., in the auditorium of the Agricultural Center, Tavares, Florida.  Commissioners present at the meeting were:  Wendy Breeden.  Others present were:  Bobby Bonilla, Parks and Trails Division Manager and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.

Commr. Breeden explained that she was the District 3 County Commissioner and welcomed the residents in attendance.  She commented that the Board was looking forward to their input on the Parks and Trails Masterplan Study and introduced Mr. John Drury, City Manager of Tavares, and Mr. T. J. Fish, Executive Director of the Lake-Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization.  She explained that this would be a participatory event, and she opined that although Parks and Trails has been doing a great job over the years, it was time to reevaluate their direction with the help of  their consultant, Tindale Oliver.

Ms. Ginger Corless from Tindale Oliver thanked everyone for attending the workshop and noted that they were there to discuss the future of parks, trails, and recreation within Lake County.  She related that she has been a recreational planner for over 30 years and had worked on the original Parks and Recreation Master Plan in 2005 as well as many of the other County’s park projects, including North Lake Park, PEAR Park, and the Miracle Field, noting that she was very familiar with the Lake County park system.  She explained that they wanted to hear the participants’ ideas about how they see the county’s park, recreational facilities, trails, public lands, and boat ramps in the future and how to take care of what they have.  She mentioned that Tindale Oliver was currently working on the Master Plan originating with the needs assessment and has started the outreach process by contacting each municipality within the county and incorporating that input into the planning process.  She related that this workshop was the second of five workshops planned throughout the county to align with the Commission Districts, with the emphasis on District 3 for that workshop; however, she pointed out that this was a countywide initiative, and she wanted them to keep that in mind when giving their feedback. 

Ms. Corless stated that they were planning on finishing the Master Plan by the fall of next year, and she specified that they will be looking at details such as how everything operates, maintenance, and maintenance standards, as well as taking comparisons and benchmarks from surrounding counties and national standards into consideration.  She pointed out all of the work that staff does in order to keep up with the facilities that have to be taken care of seven days a week.  She noted that there were a total of 53 different facilities totaling about 4,000 acres of property, many of them passive parks as opposed to active parks with ballfields, and emphasized that Lake County has a large number of public lands totaling over 2,700 acres.  She explained that public lands were purchased for the primary purpose of conservation and management and noted that some public lands have accessibility while others do not.  She presented a list of the different types of facilities found in a variety of Lake County parks which show a mix of passive and resource recreation and active sporting components, such as trails, boat ramps with both motorized and non-motorized access, fishing opportunities, dog parks, and multi-use fields.  She pointed out that they will also be analyzing the infrastructure that the County has to have in order to support all of their facilities, such as the quality and age of the restrooms, signage, access, and parking.  She showed a list of some of the park projects that were currently moving forward as well as spoke about parks that already offered many recreational experiences, including PEAR Park, Lake Idamere Park, and the McDonald Canal Boat Ramp.

Ms. Jennifer Bartlett, a specialist in trails and multi-modal transportation from Tindale Oliver, stated that this plan will look to see whether the trails that were identified in 2008 were still relevant and what they wanted to add to them going forward by looking at their vision.  She related that they will want the residents’ feedback on regional connections that will expand the trails throughout the state, minor shared-use trails connecting within the region, local trails which may connect within their communities, paved and non-paved parks and nature trails, paved shoulders as a way to get between parks or trails when other types of trails are not available, and blueways trails as a way to explore the county’s waterways.  She opined that this area is in a great location in the center of the state with a lot of trail activity going on around the area with great opportunities to connect within, including the Wekiva Trail currently under construction, the Heart of Florida Loop Trail to the north, the North Lake Trail, St. Johns River to Sea Loop in Volusia County, and the Coast to Coast Trail to the south. She elaborated that many of those trails are funded by Sun Trail, an FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) program created in 2014 to fund multi-use trails around the state.  She reported that the 2008 plan identified a lot of those kinds of opportunities, including the Tav-Dora and Tav-Lee Trails, and she also listed some other trail opportunities in the county, such as the Central Lake Trail, a trail alongside the US Hwy 27 roadway upon its expansion, Lake Apopka Loop Trail, Sugarloaf Mountain Trail, Gardenia Trail, Wekiva Trail, North Lake Phase I connecting to Heart of Florida, Hancock Trail, and Coast to Coast Trail.  She commented that they wanted feedback that night from the residents who were present about which trails to explore in order to prioritize funding.

Ms. Corless related that they will take the information gathered from all of the assessments they are doing to create an analysis and come back with recommendations about how everything should work and move forward, how they compare with other counties, how partnerships with other agencies will allow them to leverage what the County has to provide more to its citizens, and increasing opportunities for economic development, tourism, and improvement of the quality of life.  She mentioned that they have realized over the last ten years they may want to have different levels of service for different park types and development of a capital improvement program with service enhancements for specific projects, programs, and services.  She commented, however, that they also have to look at different funding scenarios in order to build a plan that was realistic and could be implemented as well as one that the community wanted.  She added that they would be looking at a lot of partnerships for trail systems, trail design, and maintenance standards during the next six to eight months.  She asked each table containing four to six people to appoint a spokesperson and to work as a group to gather a list of recommendations and to answer a set of questions regarding parks and recreation facilities on one side and a set of questions for trails on the other side, emphasizing ideas regarding what gaps in the trail system and what improvements in recreational facilities they would like to see built while referencing each of the three maps which were placed on each table, which were a parks and recreation map, a trails map, and a public lands map, as well as a list of the current inventory. She asked for each group to work for the next half hour to come up with at least three ideas to improve the parks and trails, which they will share afterwards.  She then asked that they individually complete and hand in an exercise and questionnaire and that they give the web address to others so that they could also complete the questionnaire online.

Ms. Corless asked for each group to share the ideas that they came up with during the work session, which included a rail to trail connection from Mount Dora to Tavares using the CSX track, more trails that would accommodate bicycle riding and dogs on leashes, more paved trails in wilderness areas, connectivity from the Leesburg bike trail to the Villages, completion of the Coast to Coast Trail to connect with the Van Fleet Trail, larger parks with more hiking trails, more staff at parks, additional restroom facilities, and additional parking at some facilities such as the East Lake Community Park. Other comments expressed appreciation for the number of facilities but concern about the lack of active sporting complexes, as well as appreciation for the Lake County Parks and Recreation staff and the County for having this forum.  It was pointed out, however, that some facilities are not frequently used, such as the soccer and baseball fields at PEAR Park, although the pickleball courts there are heavily used.

Ms. Bartlett explained that the Coast to Coast Trail is planned to consist of 250 contiguous miles from St. Petersburg to Titusville and that it was scheduled to be completed by 2022, with some of it going through Clermont.  She elaborated that FDOT was funding the gaps over the next five years to enable long-distance bicyclists to travel from St. Petersburg to Titusville in four days using this trail.

Other shared recommendations from another group were to construct a trail that would go from Mount Dora to Tavares and over the Howey Bridge to CR 48 and then to US Hwy 27 heading south towards Hwy 50.  They also recommended paving the rural No. 2 road in Yalaha that emanates off of CR 48 to make a loop with Turkey Lake Road between that road and Dewey Robbins Road.

Mr. John Drury, Tavares City Manager, expressed appreciation that Commr. Breeden and Mr. Bobby Bonilla, Lake County Parks and Trails Division Manager, were present at the workshop.  He commented that the elected officials and the citizens needed to make a fully-informed decision on the options after looking at the pros and cons as well as any unintended consequences of those options.  He opined, however, that the option of the railroad bed between Tavares and Mount Dora as opposed to the road right of way for Old 441 has never been considered.  He related that his group looked at Woodlea Sports Park in Tavares as a potential site for a regional park as well as trail connectivity to that park along CR 19 towards Howey in the Hills, especially since his group believed that a regional park is absent in the Leesburg-Tavares-Mount Dora area, and they believed that both the County and the City of Leesburg could look at how they could build a regional park to serve that area.

Ms. Corless asked what specific types of facilities Mr. Drury believes is needed in the area.

Mr. Drury responded that they currently have lighted baseball fields, but needed more softball fields, trails, parking, bathrooms, and lighting.  He opined that Lake County and some of the cities did a great job acquiring public lands years ago.

Ms. Corless commented that the County needed to preserve and manage the public lands properly and to inform the public where those public lands are located and which were accessible.  She noted that the Blueways trails were listed on the County’s website in response to a resident who opined that the Blueways trails was a great program that was unique to this area but was not publicized as well as it should be.

A spokesman from another group read aloud that group’s recommendations, including additional softball and multi-purpose ballfields at the Minneola Athletic Complex, bathroom facilities near all boat ramps, public access to the public lands, control or removal of feral hogs, and standardized signage on the trails.  The County was commended for providing restrooms at their trailheads.

Ms. Corless suggested that anyone having a problem with encountering feral hogs on any County property should report it to the Lake County Parks and Trails Division.

Other ideas recommended by the residents included retaining the present Howey Bridge after it is replaced to be used as part of a greenway trail for biking, hiking, and fishing; creating a separate lane for bikes that is not on the same roadway as vehicles, which would increase safety; allocate money for a natural resource agent to monitor the flora and fauna along the greenways; and replace the lock by Cherry Lake on the Palatlakaha River in the Clermont Chain.

Commr. Breeden thanked everyone for coming and commented that they had some great ideas.  She noted that there was a lot of focus on trails and connectivity and opined that it was exciting to see the momentum building for the trails. She expressed hope that the residents would continue to participate in this process to make sure their interests were served.

Mr. Corless announced that the next Parks and Trails public meetings would be February 23 at Venetian Gardens in Leesburg and March 2 at Minneola City Hall.


There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 7:32 p.m.



timothy i. sullivan, chairman