(NSF/TALLAHASSEE/December 22, 2022) — Senate President Kathleen Passidomo envisions bike and walking trails through farming communities and wildlife areas, linking her Southwest Florida community to the Coast-to-Coast Corridor across Central Florida.
And with the initiative, the Naples Republican indicated a willingness to continue funding conservation easements, which involve preventing development on property while allowing landowners to keep doing such things as ranching and farming.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Passidomo told reporters last week. “The farmers and the ranchers sell their development rights. They can continue to farm in perpetuity. And so, they’ve already cashed out. Their heirs have their money. They can invest it in the stock market, and hopefully they’ll make money someday. But they can continue to farm, so we can continue to have the vegetables.”
The current state budget includes $300 million for land preservation. But the money isn’t available until after the start of 2023, once the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services outlines how it will manage the acquisitions. Former Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, will take over as agriculture commissioner and head of the department on Jan. 3.
While it is too early to put a price tag on the trail initiative, Passidomo acknowledged the work could take a couple of decades to complete. But she said it can help promote tourism through showcasing small communities.
“The center part of our state is largely rural, and a lot of it is undeveloped, and we really don’t want it to be developed, because it’s farmlands, agricultural. It’s ranches. It’s really beautiful,” Passidomo said. “I know when you go to Orlando, a lot of you like to take the inside routes and go through those beautiful little towns. And part of the problem that we’re having is the farmers and the ranchers are selling out, they’re cashing out. They ranched and farmed for 100 years in Florida, and they’re being offered a premium for their land for development.”
The north-south trail would need to cover more than 200 miles to reach the Coast-to-Coast Corridor.
About 80 percent complete, the 250-mile Coast-to-Coast Corridor, a priority of former Senate President Andy Gardiner, is planned to provide a continuous path from the Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg to Titusville on the Atlantic Coast.
By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida