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Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
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Trail helps make connections in urban Tampa

TAMPA HEIGHTS - The asphalt trail stretches and curves for nearly a third of a mile, slipping past a community garden and open field with a steel-framed rhinoceros sculpture "grazing" in the grass. In street names, the trail runs from Amelia Avenue south to Seventh Avenue, where it ends at a trio of white bollards amid the whizzing sound of motorists shooting along an Interstate 275 overpass. Along the way there are shade trees and short side paths connecting to the neighborhood street grid. The relatively short trail is a sliver of a grand vision that ultimately would connect Tampa Heights with a redesigned Water Works Park, downtown's Riverwalk and the Channel District. Connections also could be made to a redesigned Perry Harvey Park, St. Peter Claver Catholic School and Encore, the multimillion-dollar project to create an urban village of apartments, shops, hotel and black history museum. The city recently received a nearly $11 million federal grant to complete the full 2.4 miles of the Riverwalk.
"We're very happy to have this [trail] completed," said Lena Young-Green, a co-founder of The Green Artery, a neighborhood coalition pushing to build a network of greenways, trails, and sidewalks throughout the city. The group's recommendations are being added to the city's overall transportation plan for roadways, bicycle trails and walking paths. "It's a nice comfortable walk or bicycle ride," she said of the new trail. "It's a beautiful design with a lot of greenery." The trail cost about $112,000 in local tax dollars. Some final touches are planned including more bollards and a Palm Avenue crosswalk, but the trail itself is open. The city will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony later this summer. Residents are beginning to discover the trail. Erik Hesson, 33, and his Siberian husky, Papi, strolled along the trail on a recent morning. Hesson lives nearby in The Sanctuary apartments. "It's definitely an enhancement," Hesson said. "I do see people use it considerably." The site for the garden, at 605 E. Frances Ave., and the trail are owned by the Florida Department of Transportation. State highway officials worked with city staffers and Tampa Heights residents to open the land to the community. Since the first vegetable plot was tilled in 2011, the garden has grown to 50 plots, five communal plots and about 140 gardeners. Members include youth groups and families from Metropolitan Ministries. Garden produce is making its way to tables at restaurants including The Refinery and The Front Porch in Seminole Heights. The rhinoceros – known as the Rogue Rhino – by artist Dominique Martinez was donated about three months ago. A golden harp sculpture that also is a wind chime and fountain by artist Mark DeWaele rests inside the garden. "This [the trail] brings more people walking; more people go past the garden and see what is happening," said Kitty Wallace, a Tampa Garden Club member and community garden adviser. "We're making our little connections." There also is a butterfly garden, plans for a botanical garden and yoga classes on Sunday. Some planter boxes on stilts are available for disabled gardeners. Recently members of Wounded Warriors who are at the veterans' hospital have joined the garden community. "It gives them a chance to take a break from long hallways and white coats," Wallace said. Wallace said the trail helps people in wheelchairs reach the garden. The next step, she said, is to build hard surfaces inside the garden to aid mobility. Where the trail crosses Palm Avenue, volunteers continue to work weekly on restoration of the former Faith Temple Baptist Church. It will be a community center and home for the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, whose teenage members till one of the garden beds. Young-Green is president of the junior civic association. Every piece of trail that is added draws the city's neighborhoods together. "We're seeing how it all is connected," Young-Green said. "And it is happening with great art."

ksteele@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7652

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