SAINT AUGUSTINE – Vilano Beach Town Center was designated as a Florida Trail Town at the Sept. 14 by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) Council meeting in Titusville.
A “Trail Town” in Florida is a community located along or in proximity to one or more long distance non-motorized recreational trails. This includes cycling, paddling, equestrian or hiking trails where users can venture off the trail to enjoy the services and unique heritage of the nearby community. The town is a safe place where both town residents and trail users can walk, bike, jog to find the goods and services they need, and easily access both the trail and the town.
Along with Vilano Beach Town Center, the City of Malabar and City of Clermont attained designations joining Titusville and Dunedin as the first five designated Trail Towns in the State of Florida.
The Vilano Town Center is fast becoming a destination for residents and visitors to enjoy its amenities of wide sidewalks, recreational pavilions, restaurants, camp grounds, a Publix grocery store, hotels, docks, boat ramps, shops, and multiple parks with beach access on the Atlantic Ocean and river access at Matanzas Inlet. Converging in this Florida designated Main Street community is the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway with an emerging 10 foot wide A1A Multi-use Trail from Vilano to Ponte Vedra. Multiple trails in Ponte Vedra and Palm Valley remain in development and continue northward along A1A, which now has bike lanes, to Fernandina. The Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater PaddlingTrail converges from the ocean to the inlet. The Vilano Town Center from ocean to river is a short 30 minute walk.
The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR) is home to numerous wide and hard surface cycling, hiking and equestrian trails. The A1A Byway links the main corridor with 5 foot bike lanes to downtown St. Augustine making the connection to the St. Johns River-to- Sea Loop at the Bridge of Lions – less than 2 miles away. This circular 260 mile loop trail encompasses the five counties of Volusia, Putnam, St. Johns, Flagler and Brevard that when complete runs from Titusville to St. Augustine along the Atlantic Coast and St. Johns River corridor. The A1A Byway is situated along the East Coast Greenway connecting Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida that when complete will compose 3000 miles of connecting trails. The beach itself is a long used corridor readily walkable from Ponte Vedra to the Vilano Town Center with no barriers. The A1A corridor is along the Great American Birding Trail as well the Guana Wildlife Management Area.
ATTENDING THE MEETING
Vivian Browning, President of Vilano Beach Main Street and Sallie O’Hara, Executive Director were on hand to present the Town Center’s application and answer questions on why this designation was sought. The journey for community transformation began in in 1995 when the new A1A bridge changed the face of Vilano Beach when it bypassed the commercial district.
Browning asserts, “We knew we needed a revitalization that would create a commercial/residential district which would bring local services and would be a sustainable, pedestrian-friendly Town Center that would also celebrate and protect our recreational and environmental assets. The designation is sure to energize foot traffic to the Town Center stimulating business investment and opportunities for further growth. All will greatly benefit from the alternative modes of transportation and enhanced services. Locals will be the majority of participants.“
The Trail Town designation comes on the heels of several visioning improvement designations: becoming a 1999 Waterfronts Florida Community; a member community along the nationally designated 2002 A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway; and a 2003 Florida Main Street community. Numerous grants, technical assistance and much help from St. Johns County staff and commissioners aided Vilano Town Center and its citizen leaders in moving toward a pedestrian and cycle friendly community. Economic development in the area is thriving with blighted buildings removed and new construction emerging. October 17, 2018 marks the Tenth Anniversary of the Completion of the Town Center Streetscape and Infrastructure Project.
Doug Alderson, Assistant Bureau Chief and Trail Town Coordinator with the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails continues to encourage other communities to use the Trail Town designation process as a mechanism of growth. He remarks, “Vilano Beach earned this designation by providing great signage and safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians to its many downtown amenities. The town is also uniquely situated to offer camping and great food to long-distance paddlers on the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, so this designation is indeed a win-win for both the town and trail users. “
Vilano Beach Main Street, Inc. strives to improve the Town Center and surrounding neighborhoods to sustain walkability, connectivity, safety and lighting. Vilano Beach Town Center is a walkable half mile area between two waterfronts (Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway) with a unique sense of place and history, located two miles over the Intracoastal Waterway from St. Augustine, the oldest European City in America founded in 1565.