VERO BEACH — The Indian River Lagoon Greenway made its official public debut Friday morning with a ribbon cutting ceremony, welcoming the public to the newest recreational and educational trail system located on managed conservation lands.
A model example of a positive cooperative effort between the private sector and governmental agencies, the Lagoon Greenway is the culmination of a five-year project developed by the Indian River Land Trust, working in conjunction with Indian River County Commissioners, the Mosquito Control District, the Florida Inland Navigation District (F.I.N.D.), and the Indian River County Environmental Lands Program.
The 187-acre property, accessed from the trailhead at the north-east corner of 8th Street and Indian River Boulevard, boasts an ecologically diverse three-mile trail system for hiking, jogging and bicycling through palm hammocks, oak and pine and mangrove forests, two wetland areas spanned by bridges. One long edge of the two-mile loop trail around a mangrove wetland forest runs alongside the Indian River Lagoon.
“The Bucks and Brickmans have been very instrumental in helping Ken [Ken Grudens, IRLT executive director] to get the program off the ground; they’ve been very supportive,” said Ann Taylor, Indian River Land Trust development director, referencing major contributors Bill and Laura Buck and Dick and Sally Brickman. “We had a soft opening three months ago, and it has been inundated with people walking it and enjoying it.”
“We want to try to preserve the undeveloped lands,” stressed Laura Buck.
“We wanted to save this lagoon; keep it as clean as we can,” added Bill Buck, who currently serves on the IRLT advisory board. “It’s one of the best lagoons in the country and it would be a shame to let it go; it’s home to many fish and wildlife. We didn’t want to see it become overdeveloped with houses.”
“We like what this group has been doing all along and wanted to get involved,” Laura said in agreement. “We walked it when it was just an overgrown jungle and now it’s a lovely pathway.”
“It will be used a lot; people will really enjoy it, agreed Bill. “You can walk all the way to the water.”
In his welcoming remarks, Grudens spoke about the unique partnerships engaged in the successful project, giving special credit to Bob Solari and other members of the County Commission who he said have been supportive from the onset.
“It’s a tremendous use of our conservation land,” said Solari. “This facility is available to everyone in the county. Fifty feet away is a bus stop; you don’t even need a car to get here.”
Other significant help came from the Florida Inland Navigation District, which has a 53 acre property to the north. The Greenway actually spans four different properties, including pieces owned by the IRLT, Indian River County, F.I.N.D. and River Park Place, a privately owned development.
A major contributing partner, F.I.N.D. provided 50 percent of the funds to start the project, and is now helping with phase 2.
Bruce Barkett, Indian River County F.I.N.D. commissioner presented Solari with a symbolic check for $174,000 representing phase 2 contributions on behalf of the Waterway Assistance Program.
Less visible, but equally important partners have included engineers from Knight McGuire and Associates, landscapers from Rudy Kirchner Landscaping, ecologist David Cox, and the continually supportive board and staff of the Land Trust.
“Our River Park Place neighbors have been involved right from the very beginning,” said Grudens. “They’re out here daily; walking the trail, keeping it clean and keeping an eye on things.”
The Lagoon Greenway offers many opportunities for bird watching and wildlife observation, and individuals can rest on benches and commune with nature thanks to the Treasure Coast Women’s Club and Laura and Bill Buck.
The Greenway is open from dawn to dusk; well-behaved dogs on leashes, (with owners who pick up after them) are also invited to enjoy the trails.