Multi-use paths for bikers and hikers are suddenly becoming hot items around Citrus County.
Folks in Sugarmill Woods last month petitioned county commissioners to build a half-mile path to connect their community with the Suncoast Parkway Trail. County staff is exploring costs and design.
Plans are also afoot to build a 9-mile path from the Fort Island Trail beach to U.S. 19. Commissioners have made that path a top priority and a staff report is expected back in the next month or so.
On Tuesday, folks who live along Halls River Road asked commissioners to explore a 3-mile multi-use path from U.S. 19 to around Riverhaven Village. Commissioners saw no problem with that and asked staff again to come back with potential funding sources.
The recently completed Halls River bridge already has 5-foot sidewalks on each side and would tie in with the new path.
County Administrator Randy Oliver said he will prepare an agenda item for the next county commission meeting, April 27. At that time, the board can discuss it in more detail.
Stuart Bozeman of Homosassa started a campaign to gauge the level of interest in the neighborhood for such a path. He told commissioners he has collected 1,127 signatures in favor.
“To me, there is support to at least take the next step,” he said. “(Getting) the bikes and the walking public off the roadway is a matter of public safety.”
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said a path would be a hit with locals and tourists.
“Paths are safer because it’s getting pedestrians off the roads and giving people other options for outdoor physical activity,” Kinnard said.
Kinnard said the path would cost an estimated $3 million. He suggested one possible funding source could be the federal allotment of money Citrus County received from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill lawsuit, known as the RESTORE Act.
Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said impact fees could be used for the project.
Catherine Clark of Homosassa said talk of building a bike path was broached about 20 years ago and nothing happened.
Since then, she said the road has gotten busier and the area more built-up with businesses.
“This is just a very dangerous situation,” Clark said. “(It’s) quite a narrow road.”
Josh Wooten, president/CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, said he supported the citizens’ initiative for a path.
“We think it’s a good investment for our community,” he said.
Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach said the 1,127 positive signatures “speaks for itself.”
“Anything that would make our little towns more user-friendly, more visitor friendly is a plus for us,” she said.
Commissioner Holly Davis said the building of such paths can be controversial. But it is true, she said, that they “not only enhance a community, they do help us practice better health.”