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Discover A New Path on the Emerald Trail

HomeFeaturesDiscover A New Path on the Emerald Trail

The city is about to get a little greener, leaner and a whole lot friendlier thanks to the implementation of a massive, multi-pronged neighborhood improvement project first conceptualized over a century ago. It’s an idea first conceptualized for Jacksonville by famed architect Henry Klutho, who led the city’s rebuilding in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1901. Klutho envisioned a series of parks and greenways that would encircle Downtown and connect it with surrounding neighborhoods. Known as the Emerald Necklace, the plan gave way to McCoy’s Creek and Hogan’s Creek. A century later, Klutho’s vision is getting a

With a recent mega-cash infusion via the largest one-time federal grant in the city’s history, completion of the much-anticipated Emerald Trail is now on the fast track. A $147 million grant was awarded to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), along with over $180 million in highly competitive federal grants to the JTA since 2016, reflects the U.S.

Department of Transportation’s confidence in JTA’s ability to deliver complex infrastructure projects. The much anticipated EmeraldTrail is already 40 percent complete, under construction or designed and this latest financial boost will help accelerate the remaining work.

The Emerald Trail will be a thirty-mile contiguous urban trail and linear park system stretching from Brentwood to San Marco and Lackawanna to Historic Eastside. It will connect 14 neighborhoods and Downtown Jacksonville, including 16 schools, two colleges, three hospitals, 21 parks, and the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center.

The first segment of the Emerald Trail, the LaVilla Link, will open this spring and construction on segment two, along Hogan Street, is slated to start later this year.

Efforts are driven by a partnership between the JTA, City of Jacksonville, and Groundwork Jacksonville, a trust focused on transforming the natural and built environment in lowresource and climate-vulnerable communities. Other community stakeholders investing in the project include Baptist Health, Blue Zones Project-Jacksonville and Swisher, as well as outside donors including the James M. Cox Foundation and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA).

The finished plan will provide a boost to residents and small business owners all along the trail, particularly adults aged fifty-five and older.“We’re designing for 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds,” says Kay Ehas, CEO ofGroundwork Jacksonville, noting that much of the planning was informed by walks through various neighborhoods with residents,asking them what they most wanted to see.

Among the priorities are economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, preservation of each area’s history and culture, and housing that mirrors its intrinsic style.

“If they see themselves as a single-family, historic neighborhood, they don’t want to see a large apartment complex built,” Ehas says. “We want the residents to be the architects of their neighborhood revitalizations.”

Mobility Reimagined

Nat Ford, CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, has been in the transportation industry for more than four decades, working on major transit projects in New York City, San Francisco and Atlanta. He moved to Jacksonville to helm the JTA in 2012 be different in terms of their priorities. But at the end of the day, those communities that are able to move their populations in the most coordinated and efficient manner are the ones that thrive. They thrive from an economic standpoint, from a healthcare standpoint, from an equity standpoint and from an educational standpoint. So, it’s become a passion for me to help our communities around the country move better. It’s one of the most important elements to a healthy, positive quality of life.”

Ford notes that the Emerald Trail holds particular promise for area seniors and others who deal with mobility limitations, including those with disabilities.

“Accessibility in all forms as it relates to transportation infrastructure is my central philosophy,” Ford says. “It should be well coordinated, interconnected, seamless and smooth from one mode to another and it should break down the silos between different types of transportation. The Emerald Trail is right in line with our increasingly holistic view.”

Investing in Your Health

“Every dollar spent on trails reducesdirect medical costs by $3 in that area,” Ehas says, citing research by the American Heart Association. Evidence can be seen in Brownsville, TX, where 428 miles of new or upgraded walking, hiking, biking and paddling trails in the city and ten surrounding municipalities is expected to save the region upward of $6 million in health-related costs over the next decade. Results like those are why Baptist Health is a major investor in the Emerald Trail.

“Eighty percent of what contributes to our health has nothing to do with the medical system,” says Katie Ensign, Vice President of Community Investment and Impact at Baptist Health. “It has to do with where you are socioeconomically, whether you have access to things like fresh food, transportation and ways of connecting with others. That’s why we’re always looking for opportunities to continue providing health and well-being outside of our walls.”

Mission: Possible

Jacksonville’s Blue Zones Project is also a major player in developing elements of the Emerald Trail.

“We aim to implement changes that make it easier to be healthy in our community, create more opportunities and remove barriers, particularly in the spirit of moving naturally, eating wisely, and alcohol and tobacco cessation,” says Haley Spring, Public Policy Coordinator at Blue Zones Project – Jacksonville.

Blue zones are regions around the world where people tend to live much longer than average and experience lower rates of chronic diseases. These areas have attracted attention from researchers interested in understanding the factors contributing to longevity and overall well-being and prompted a movement to mimic these lifestyles and results in cities globally.

Choosing healthy diets, minimizing stress, maintaining social connections and simply moving are hallmarks of a blue zone.

“The original blue zones were the friendships that you were born into,” says Marketing and Engagement Lead Kristin Murray. “Working with the Emerald Trail, we have a unique opportunity to reverse engineer friendship, where people come together for 10 weeks – the amount of time that research shows it takes to truly establish a connection – around a common goal, which may simply be to move more.”

It’s based on the Okinawa tradition of Moai, social support groups that form to provide social, financial, health or spiritual help.

Economic Footprints

But do projects like the Emerald Trail really work? And do they benefit businesses, too? A look at Atlanta’s BeltLine project, launched in 2005 similar to the Emerald Trail’s vision, suggests a resounding “yes!” Properties within a half-mile of the BeltLine experienced an average increase in property values of 17.9 percent between 2011 and 2015. The project stimulated economic development all along its corridor, creating scores of new businesses and thousands of job opportunities and has catalyzed over $10 billion in private investment since its inception.

“Based on Atlanta’s experience, the potential economic impact for small businesses along the Emerald Trail will be exponential,” Ford says.

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