A long-held vision is linking up
The Emerald Necklace was envisioned by architect Henry Klutho in the early 20th century to describe a series of parks, trails, greenspace and creeks forming a necklace around downtown. It has been just an idea for more than a century, but now the Jacksonville City Council has adopted a plan presented by Groundwork Jacksonville to build the Necklace, renamed the Emerald Trail, within the next ten years.
When complete, Groundwork Jacksonville’s Emerald Trail Master Plan will encompass almost twenty miles of new trails connecting at least fourteen historic neighborhoods and downtown to existing and/or planned trail segments including the S-Line Rail Trail, Hogans Creek, McCoys Creek, the Northbank and Southbank riverwalks and the FDOTs Riverside connection to San Marco, for a total of thirty miles of trails and linear parks.
Within the overall Master Plan, the trail system is dissected into two implementation tiers. Tier 1 reflects Klutho’s original vision for the Emerald Necklace, with linkages to the existing S-Line Rail Trail. Tier 2 expands the trail to provide additional connections to several historic neighborhoods and Edwards Waters College. Groundwork’s goal is to have a trail segment within acquisition, design, permitting, and construction at all times until completion, which is anticipated to be 2028.
Kay Ehas, CEO of Groundwork Jacksonville, says the next step will be to design and build the Model Project, a portion of the trail that will be highly utilized and will offer the community a tangible example of what the finished Emerald Trail can be. The 1.3-mile Model Project will connect the south end of the existing S-Line Rail Trail to the intersection of Park Street and Stonewall Street, near the Convention Center. The hope is for this portion of the Emerald Trail to be complete by 2020. She points out that there are many advantages to this connection, including multiple access points for the LaVilla and Brooklyn neighborhoods, the opportunity to connect to the McCoys Creek greenway in the future, and the fact that no land acquisition is needed.
Groundwork is currently raising twenty-five percent of the Model Project cost, and hopes that legislation will soon be approved to move funds into the city’s Capital Improvement Projects budget for design. “As we look ahead at creating a vibrant and bustling Downtown, I am pleased to have the City partner with Groundwork Jacksonville to increase pedestrian and bicycle access to our natural spaces,” says Mayor Curry. “Connecting communities and celebrating our neighborhoods is what the Emerald Trail project is all about. We are a city on the rise and this important project will be a big part of changing the landscape of Downtown as we move forward.”
Advocates believe the Emerald Trail will be a catalyst for social and economic opportunity in Jacksonville, from encouraging healthy lifestyles and promoting public safety, to spurring neighborhood revitalization and economic development. The trail will link to eighteen schools, two colleges and twenty-eight parks among other destinations such as restaurants, retail and businesses, with an additional twenty schools and twenty-one parks located within three blocks of the trail.
“The Emerald Trail will not only create unprecedented recreational opportunities in the urban core, it is a transformative transportation and economic redevelopment project,” says Ehas. She cites Atlanta’s BeltLine project as supportive evidence. “If you look at the Atlanta BeltLine, the direct economic impact is almost four billion dollars thus far. We believe the Emerald Trail will deliver significant economic benefits to Jacksonville as well.”
The Emerald Trail Master Plan was developed by Groundwork in collaboration with the PATH Foundation—the organization responsible for building over 280 miles of trails in Georgia—and KAIZEN Collaborative, one of the Southeast’s leading trail planning and design firms. Over a six-month period, the PATH/KAIZEN team reviewed numerous research and planning documents developed by the City and other organizations, performed extensive field research to determine potential routes that will connect active destinations, and vetted their findings with Groundwork Jacksonville and key constituents. Each month, the design team met with a Steering Committee convened by Groundwork, and Groundwork also met monthly with a Neighborhood Working Group comprised of community members who live and/or own businesses along the proposed trail. Connecting places where people are to places they want to go has been a primary consideration, along with determining the complexity and potential cost of property acquisition.