January 25, 2022
In The Public Interest
courtesy Groundwork Jacksonville

Happy Trails: Groundwork Jacksonville unveils Emerald Trail masterplan

In what is arguably one of Jacksonville’s most extraordinary examples of civic collaboration, Groundwork Jacksonville recently published its design plans for the Emerald Trail, which will, when completed in 2029, connect, encompass and link 30 miles of the city’s often overlooked urban areas. 

The signature project of Groundwork Jacksonville (https://groundworkjacksonville.org), the Emerald Trail will connect 14 historic neighborhoods and downtown; Hogans Creek, McCoys Creek and the St. Johns River; 16 schools and two colleges; and 21 parks and destinations such as restaurants, shops and other businesses with walking and biking trails. Notably, an additional 13 schools and 17 parks are located within three blocks of the Trail’s footprint. 

The public-private partnership is estimated to cost $31 million in 2018 dollars.

Nearly a century ago, claims Groundwork Jacksonville, famed architect Henry Klutho imagined The Emerald Necklace, “miles of connected greenways, parks, and trails” winding through Jacksonville.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry singled out the Emerald Trail during his 2021 budget presentation last week, Wednesday, July 15, saying “We are one step closer to creating an amenity unlike any other in our city.”  He added that he thinks “the Emerald Trail will promote historic communities, physical activity and wellness, and Jacksonville’s natural beauty.”

Curry’s 2021 budget, relatively flat over the current budget with no provision for increased taxes, seeks $1.34 billion in operating expenses and $240 million in Capital Improvement Projects (CIP). Respectively, these numbers envision more money for police and a significant investment in the City’s infrastructure, particularly for four Northside and Westside council districts (7, 8, 9 and 10, currently represented by Councilmembers Reggie Gaffney, Ju’Coby Pittman, Garrett Dennis, and Brenda Priestly Jackson respectively).  

Source: COJ.net

Curry’s 2021 budget also calls for $4.9 million in CIP funding to develop the first link – the 1.3 mile LaVilla Link — of the Emerald Trail. 

According to Groundwork Jacksonville’s website, the 30-mile Emerald Trail will be “a catalyst for social and economic development in Jacksonville, from encouraging healthy lifestyles and public safety to spurring economic growth and economic development in historic neighborhoods.” It will feature shade trees and light filtering installations, indigenous gardens, art and quiet spaces for people watching, nature study and reflection. Click here to view Emerald Trail master plan:


According to Kay Ehas, CEO of Groundwork Jacksonville, “Our guiding principles are to design a beautiful, low-maintenance amenity that connects and honors our historic neighborhoods, incorporates green infrastructure wherever possible, and creates a safe habitat for birds, bees, pedestrians and bicyclists.” (quoted in Groundwork Jacksonville website)

The LaVilla Link – the first to be developed — will reach from Park and Stonewall Streets in Brooklyn across the Park Street Bridge and head north along Lee Street. At Church Street, the Link will turn west to Beaver Street until reaching the S-Line Rail Train in the Railyard District.

Lavilla Link

Development on the LaVilla Link will begin this fall and will take a year to complete.  Groundwork Jacksonville anticipates that 1 to 2 new links might also begin construction in the 21-22 budget year (October – September).

The Emerald Trail — a winding, green, shaded, urban park that connects Jacksonvillians and their neighborhoods one to another — is a promising development in this era of deep divisions.

Written by
Robert Arleigh White

Robert Arleigh White has many years of experience managing nonprofit arts organizations in North Florida where he has also been active in promoting a host of arts related initiatives. In recognition of over 20 years of successful legislative and community advocacy, the City of Jacksonville proclaimed August 12 as “Robert Arleigh White Day,” and Jacksonville’s City Council similarly authorized a resolution in his honor. Previously, Mr. White served as the executive and artistic director for Theatre Jacksonville where he led the organization from near fiscal insolvency to become one of the State of Florida’s most successful artistic venues. While there, he also was directly responsible for the artistic direction of fifty plays and worked to produce dozens more. Currently, Bob is the principal for Robert Arleigh White + Associates where he consults with nonprofits on development, infrastructure and organizational storytelling.

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Written by Robert Arleigh White

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