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Wildlife Corridor Expansion Passes First Senate Committee

Photo Courtesy Carlton Ward Jr./Wildpath

Florida - Tuesday February 7, 2023: Legislation to expand access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, has been approved by the Senate Committee on Transportation.

Senate Bill 106, the Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized Trail Network, was introduced by Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford). It would expand access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, connecting the corridor to Florida’s Greenways and Trails System and the SUN Trail Network, as well as recreational pathways to heritage small towns across Florida.

“Our wildlife corridor provides a unique opportunity to experience the wonder and beauty of Florida’s heartland. With record investments by the Legislature and Governor DeSantis over the last two years, we have the chance not only to preserve this natural resource for future generations, but to expand access so more Floridians can walk, run, and bike from trail town to trail town, taking in all our great state has to offer,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), who has made expanding access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor a priority of her term as Senate President.

Florida’s Wildlife Corridor encompasses approximately 17 million acres, including almost 10 million acres of conservation lands. The corridor is being created through the state’s purchase of development rights of farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who will be able to continue their operations in perpetuity and the lands will never be developed.

“Florida continues to see record tourism, with our natural beauty and warm weather being a large part of the reason people from across the country and around the world continue to choose Florida for vacation and recreation opportunities. Expanding access to Florida’s iconic Wildlife Corridor will provide even more options for families, athletes, and adventure seekers to experience old Florida at its finest, safeguarding more of our wetlands, farmlands and ranchlands, while improving the visibility of our quaint, legacy trail towns,” said Senator Brodeur, who serves as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government.

The Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Program, a priority of former Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando), was created in 2015 to support the establishment of a statewide system of interconnected multi-use trails for bicyclists and pedestrians through coordination between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The program receives funding from a portion of the existing fees paid when new vehicle registration fees are paid. The FDOT also dedicates other resources, such as federal grant funds, when available, to build bike and pedestrian trails that are part of the SUN Trail Network.

SB 106 formally connects the corridor to the state trail system, extending the SUN Trail Network to lands of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which will include components that connect to nature trails, loop trails, or other points of public access wholly within a single park or natural area as potential parts of the SUN Trail Network. To fund expansions that connect the SUN Trail to the corridor, as well as the construction of shared-use nonmotorized trails in these areas, the bill increases from $25 million to $50 million the annual amount allocated to the SUN Trail Network from motor vehicle registration fees. The bill also appropriates $200 million from the General Revenue Fund to the FDOT as a nonrecurring major investment to boost the planning, design, and construction of the SUN Trail Network. The legislation also codifies an existing campaign of the FDEP to recognize communities located along or in proximity to long-distance nonmotorized recreational trails as “Trail Towns,” with guidance to Visit Florida for promoting trail-based tourism.

The bill requires that trail projects located within the Wildlife Corridor, to the greatest extent possible, use previously disturbed lands, such as abandoned roads and railroads, utility rights-of-way, canal corridors and drainage berms, and permanent fire lines. Further, FDOT is directed to minimize gaps between trail segments and to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that local support exists for projects and trail segments, including the potential for dedication of local funding and of contributions by sponsors to support trail maintenance, which may include those private landowners who make their land, or property interests in such land, available for public use as a trail.