By David Breen
An outdoor oasis is coming to one of Orange County’s most urban areas — within sight of traffic-choked West Colonial Drive.
Shelved for years by the economic downturn, the long-delayed Pine Hills Trail is finally taking shape.
County commissioners on Tuesday took another step forward in the process, agreeing to condemn two small parcels needed for the first phase of the trail, which will run from Alhambra Drive north to Silver Star Road. It will also include a trail head at Barnett Park.
Today the start of the trail, behind a strip-mall parking lot, is a patch of bare earth bracketed by 50-foot-tall electric-transmission towers. A sign reading “Future Home of the Pine Hills Trail” is the only indication of what’s to come.
But during the coming months, the final design work will be completed on the 2.7-mile trail, which includes a 0.7-mile spur that begins in Barnett Park.
Bill Thomas, a planner for the county’s parks and recreation division, said construction could begin in mid-2015, finishing six to nine months later.
Design and construction costs, paid for with federal money, are expected to total about $5.4 million or slightly less, Thomas said.
When complete, the trail will give Pine Hills residents a long-awaited venue for walking, jogging and biking.
Tiffany Moore Russell, newly elected as Orange County clerk of court, just finished two terms representing District 6, which includes most of Pine Hills.
“What it symbolizes to the Pine Hills community is, you too can have outdoor recreation,” Moore Russell said.
Bertina Busch, a 30-year resident of the area, is happy to see the trail moving forward after previous false starts. She recalled going to a groundbreaking for the trail eight years ago, before funding dried up.
“We have been clamoring for some green space for many years,” Busch said, noting that Pine Hills is home to pedestrian-unfriendly arteries, including Colonial Drive and Silver Star Road.
“People can bike on the trail and not get run over by a car,” Busch said. “They can Rollerblade, they can walk, they can do all these things that they can’t do along these major highways.”
The county’s master plan calls for two more phases of the trail: The second will go north from Silver Star Road to Clarcona-Ocoee Road, and the third from Clarcona-Ocoee Road north to the Seminole Wekiva Trail.
Matt Suedmeyer, manager of Orange’s parks-and-recreation division, said the ultimate goal is to link up with the West Orange and Shingle Creek trails as well.
“Eventually it’s going to provide connectivity to all of our trails and to Seminole County and Lake County,” he said. “It fills in all those gaps.”
For now there is no funding for those phases. Busch is hoping the 2015 legislative session will include money for the second phase of the trail, but she’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
“It took us 10 years to get a little sign that says, ‘Future Home of the Pine Hills Trail,'” she said.
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