I had a wonderful conversation with Jeff Spence, Director of Polk County Natural Resources, this afternoon about the Panther Point trail expansion. Here are the current facts:
- There are 3 separate governmental agencies involved in the project: Polk County Natural Resources, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the Department of Transportation. A considerable amount of coordination, paperwork, and negotiation is ongoing between the agencies to assure a successful outcome for users. Details on usage will not be decided until the project is close to completion.
- The approximately 3.75 miles of new trail will link the current Panther Point (5 miles long) with the Fort Fraser trail. It will take a minimum of 6 to 12 months to complete, and will run along the top of the berm next to Lake Hancock. While picturesque, it will be open and sunny (translation: HOT in summer).
- The Fort Fraser trail is built on an old railroad bed and, as is the nature of old train tracks, is long and narrow. One side borders Hwy 98; the other is private property. There will be NO room for trailer parking (and maybe no car parking) at the trail connector. There is also a wooden bridge that was built to hold humans, and is not strong enough for horses. So if equestrians are permitted to use the new trail, we will continue to use the Marshall Hampton entrance.
- The “powers-that-be” are aware of equestrians’ keen interest in the trail expansion, and understanding of our concerns and hopes. We can help our cause and future inclusion by continuing to use current trails with respect, sharing courteously with the other user groups, and doing what we can to improve the areas. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to thank those administrators–like Mr. Spence and Gaye Sharpe–to let them know we appreciate them!
Florida Sport Horse Club President Mike Charron on the Panther Point trail