PC Rails to Trails project could start in December

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COLLIN BREAUX News Herald Reporter @PCNHCollinB

LYNN HAVEN — Construction to turn old railroad tracks in Lynn Haven into walking and biking paths could start in December, according to an update given Tuesday. 

Chris Forehand, the engineer on the Rails to Trails project, on which the City of Lynn Haven has worked for many years, spoke about plans and details during a public workshop. The December start date depends on whether Panhandle Engineering, of which Forehand is vice president, and the city can secure $2.75 million in grant funds for the project’s first phase, from State 390 to State 389. 

“Funding is obviously the very most important part of all this,” said Commissioner Rodney Friend, who has been an active advocate for the project. “We still have additional funding I think we can go after.” 

Forehand said they should know by July if the grants will come in. 

Rails to Trails will cover about 3.69 miles and include trailheads; signage to tell people where they’re at on the trail and if there are upcoming intersections or connection points; and access points along State 77, Mowat Highlands and other locations. An existing parking lot at State 390 and Georgia Avenue is expected to become a trailhead. 

“The trail does include trailheads, which those are locations where vehicles can park, unload their bikes, go for a ride, ride a certain distance, come back,” Forehand said. “The trailheads do have lighting and rest areas. There are some rest areas along the route at certain points that we’ve placed. There’s no lighting proposed along the entire route, just simply because of the cost.” 

Several residents have voiced concerns about a proposed crosswalk at State 77 where pedestrians could push a button to call for traffic stops. Resident Henry Lawrence, for one, proposed there should be a pedestrian overpass. Forehand, however, said crosswalks at busy streets are “not uncommon.” 

The trails and trailheads likely will be named in honor of local cyclists and people who have had a hand in making Rails to Trails a reality. Several people said a trail should be named after Ray Wishart, a beloved retired Mosley High teacher who was killed in 2016 when he was struck by a semi-truck while on a morning bicycle ride, and Frances Wittkopf, who has advocated for Rails to Trails since 2000. Friend said memorials could be put up for cyclists who have been killed. 

“I’d like to highly recommend that at least this part between 390 and 389 be named after Mr. Wishart, who is certainly known by a lot of people,” Commissioner Judy Tinder said. “I know his family would be certainly appreciative, to say the least.” 

Rails to Trails will be built in three phases, with phase two from State 390 up through the old Air Force fuel depot and phase three from County 389 to U.S. 231. Phase two is estimated to cost $650,000 while phase three’s estimate is $800,000. Forehand said Rails to Trails’ final appearance could resemble Gayle’s Trails in Panama City Beach. 

Rails to Trails is a part of Marina Island, a planned water-centric village to be built along Lynn Haven Bayou that will feature shopping centers and other amenities. Iron rail removal started in February, and the scrap funds will be split between the city and developer Marina Island LLC.

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