LIVE OAK — While the government officials and other stakeholders were excited about the presence of the extension to Heritage Trail that opened in June, nobody at the ribbon cutting Friday morning was happier about the walking trail than Joan Howard.
A Live Oak resident that lives nearby on Helvenston Street, Howard utilizes the trail daily.
And when she heard the Suwannee Parks and Recreation Department as well as city and Suwannee County officials would be holding the ribbon cutting, she wanted to attend.
“It’s always refreshing to me when you know that when you build something, people use it,” said Greg Scott, the director of Suwannee Parks and Rec. “They have a smile on their face when they’re using it and they came special just to talk about how much they appreciate it.”
Howard is certainly appreciative of not only the trail, but its location and surroundings.
“I’m just so glad this was done,” she said, adding how much she enjoys the shade that the trees that line both sides of the trail almost in its entirety provide. “It’s a good safe place.
“I just love it. I walk it every day.”
Howard isn’t alone in utilizing the trail that now runs from Howard Street (U.S. Highway 90) to the southern edge of the city, crossing Helvenston Street and Ichetucknee Road.
Ricky Gamble, chairman of the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners as well as a member of the Parks and Rec board, said while driving on Ichetucknee Road daily, it is a constant to see people approaching the intersection on the trail.
“It’s getting a heavy amount of use,” Gamble said. “That’s a good thing. When we come together to do a project and immediately you’re seeing use on it.”
In fact, Gamble said the use of the trail actually preceded the trail’s completion.
“There was actually people using it before the asphalt was put down,” he added. “They were actually getting on it ahead of time. But that’s a good thing.”
Gamble, as well as City Manager Ron Williams and City Council President Mark Stewart, said one of the best features of the trail was how it united the community.
The project was funded through federal dollars (nearly $700,000) through the Florida Department of Transportation’s Rails to Trails program. The parks department handled the project and now that it is completed, it has been turned over to the city.
During Friday’s ceremony, Gamble handed Stewart a weed eater as a symbol of the project being passed along.
“Parks, sports, they unite people,” Gamble said. “It is the one uniting factor in our community. This trail is no different. The city of Live Oak, Suwannee County, DOT, feds, all the community partners came together, worked together to give us this beautiful addition to the parks service.”
That addition to the parks made Live Oak Mayor Frank Davis happy as well. Davis called Heritage Park and Gardens, which is adjacent to the trail, a “crown jewel” for the city.
And he said that Heritage Park, as well as the trail, are a great example of a lesson he learned years ago when he was serving as county coordinator.
“One of our public officials was catching a little heat because he was trying to get a park downtown,” Davis recalled. “A lot of folks were fussing at him for wanting to spend money on a park. He said, ‘I don’t want to live in a community that doesn’t have a park. It enhances the community.’
“Obviously, this park does just that. This is a tremendous addition to the park, to our city.”