Parks vs Trees: we can do both – An opinion

By Phil Scanlan
Friends of Amelia Island Trail, Inc. – CEO
November 17, 2019

Editor’s Note:  The Fernandina Beach City Commission will be discussing the Simmons Road Park at the upcoming regular meeting of the commission on Tuesday, November 19.

Chip Ross wrote an informative article on the Simmons Park issue; loaded with facts and identification of process problems that has resulted in a parks vs trees debate. Chip also provided a balanced view of well meaning people; some trying to provide recreation and some trying to save trees that now have a conflict. Trees or Parks.

We can do both; and at a much lower cost.

The Simmons Park issue comes down to parks vs trees, and also raises the issue of the cost and effectiveness of adding new parks vs maintaining and improving existing parks.

We can have both trees and parks. However, we need to take a larger view of what our Amelia Island parks are; beyond what the city Parks & Recreation Dept. manages.

Phil Scanlan on one of the Amelia Island Trails. A Stephen R. Leimberg photo.

1. Our 13 mile Long Beach 🏖 is our largest and best park. The new “Sea to River Trail” is a “linear park” that provides access to that beach park at city access point 30. There are 3 steps at the beginning of the boardwalk at access point 30; perhaps they could be converted to a ramp to increase accessibility to our beach park.

2. The State Parks at both ends of our island provide wonderful access to nature, trails, rivers, canopy trees drives and bike rides, and the ocean. The Amelia south-end State Park is accessible via the off-road trail on the south-end of the island.

3. Our off-road developing Trail Network is a “linear park” that is accessible, open to all, and significantly funded with federal and state grants. These off-road trails that are “linear parks” are also “paths to parks”. The new “Sea to River Trail” provides access to the beach on the east-end and to the City Alvarez Park Complex on the west-end. (Space may be available there for a young kids recreation park which would be good for parents with kids of different ages; when older kids are playing sports)

The Crane Island developer has provided a trail extension from the City Alvarez Park Sports Complex to a planned small park with a River View (planned for end of 2019 availability).

The “Sea to River trail” is a path to parks which was funded with a $1.8 million federal grant, and it has also resulted in the provision of a river-side park provided by a developer worth $300,000 for the trail extension and small park on Crane Island.

The Sea to River trail grant also provided some new tree plantings for the Sea to River Trail Right of Way (ROW) and the county provided a few additional trees.

Friends of Amelia Island Trail has worked with the Amelia Tree Conservation group, and both County and City staffs to develop a “Trees for Trails” Program within the ATC that will fund projects to plant new trees on trail Right of Ways (ROWs) and projects to cut vines that are killing existing trees on trails ROWs. Non-profit funded. This Trees for Trails ATC Program is not final yet but already has 2 pledges of $2,500 each to fund a Trees for Trails ATC program.


Off-road trails are accessible “linear parks” that are being funded with grants and they provide “paths to parks”. In addition the trail grants can also provide new tree plantings. Our non-profits have agreed to do more to add trees to trail ROWs and to save our existing canopy trees on ROWs from killer vines.

Our south-end A.I Trail (Amelia Island State Park to Peters Point County Park) has averaged 400 users per day. When our trails are interconnected, with a connection to downtown FB our trail usage will likely grow to over 1000 per day on each trail.

There are no locks on these trails, they provide access to a “linear park” path near many homes that provides a “path to parks”.

Off-road Trails can be funded with federal and State grants and we can add and save trees in the Right of Way (ROW) along trails.

Trails can provide alternative transportation as well as recreation and exercise for all age groups, and are fully accessible to all, all the time.

The “Sea to River Trail” is a new “linear park” for those in the south-end of the city ( a trail long requested by residents to access the beach). This trail has provided a path to existing parks and has resulted in a developer contributing a river-side park.

Trails do not need new restrooms, by connecting to existing parks we use existing park restrooms (which do need better maintenance)

Trails do not need additional parking; they reduce parking needs by providing alternative transportation options.

Trails do not need additional drainage pond areas. In fact trail grants have also included funds to improve storm water drainage along our roads.

Trail grants (working with Nassau Schools) have also provided sidewalk path grants for 3 schools (and the Boys and Girls Club) on Amelia Island.

Let’s work to get City and County fully supportive of our plan for completing the Amelia Island Trail Network— expanding our “linear park”, adding trees, reducing parking needs, providing access for all for recreation and transportation.

To complete our Amelia Island Trail network we need to take full advantage of available federal and state grant opportunities.

The N. FL Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) allows each county to submit 2 trails for the Federal and State Trail opportunities. Nassau submitted one trail a few years ago (A.I. Pky ) and that is fully programmed for construction grants in 2022, 2023, and 2024. Nassau, like the other 4 N. FL counties is allowed to submit a second trail grant application.

Unfortunately, we have not agreed on what the 2nd Trail Application should be, or even Nasssu should submit a second trail grant application (as is being done by the other 4 counties in the N. FL TPO region.

It would be nice to have the city and county agree on a trail to submit for this 2nd Trail Grant opportunity, rather than not submitting a second trail for a grant opportunity.

A FDOT deadline for additional State SUN Trail Grant Applications is 12/20/19. When we don’t submit a grant application then other counties do and they get the grants we might have received. If we can’t get the county to agree on a 2nd trail grant application to meet the FDOT 12/20/19 deadline for applications — we should at least try to get agreement on a 2nd trail for the next FDOT grant application opportunity, which may be a few years from now due to the many Trail grant applications from the 65 counties in Florida and due to limited federal and state grant funding. We are competing with 64 other counties for limited trail grant resources.


Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
4 years ago

Thank you Phil Scanlan! What a great article and interesting perspective.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_56168)
4 years ago

An expert and insightful analysis that puts focus – and gives direction – to where we should go here. I hope all our Commissioners, and planning staffs, in both City and County governments read and integrate this. Thanks, Phil.

Larry Myers
Larry Myers (@guest_56169)
4 years ago

Phil, GREAT Article…filled with clear concise information. Lots of progress on our Pathways to the future.
Sure hope the parties to be…City & County…can reach an agreement & meet the Dec. 20 deadline.

Mary Libby
Mary Libby (@guest_56170)
4 years ago

Excellent article Phil! Thank you for putting it so clearly. We have such a beautiful island, and to be able to show it off with minimal impact to the current environment is a goal for which we should all be striving. Our bike trails provide an opportunity for all to enjoy, whether in the woods, along the beach, or along lake vistas. There is a pergola along the new river to sea trail, an osprey platform in the vicinity would make a wonderful addition, and serve to provide more nature viewing. We need to keep what we’ve got, although it can be enhanced without destroying it.

Jack Knocke
Jack Knocke (@guest_56171)
4 years ago

Great thoughtful ideas. It is refreshing to see someone thinking about integrating the many assets in the area including legacy assets and federal grants as opposed to the local approach of spending, cutting trees, bowing to developers, taxing, and claiming that there is no other way.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
4 years ago

Phil, wonderful article with great information. I have long advocated that the park at Crane Island provides a very reasonable alternative to the Simmons Road location and discussions should take place with the developers to include an all-inclusive playground.

Michael Bell
Michael Bell (@guest_56174)
4 years ago

Thank you, Phil, for your leadership on this issue. In time, the City and County will come to realize that the trails are their most popular parks and the ones that benefit the most citizens.

JANET LEE ROSS (@guest_56175)
4 years ago

Phil Thank you so very much for your wonderful and informative article. We really appreciate your time and expertise done on all of our citizens behalf.

Lou Goldman
Lou Goldman(@lgoldmngmail-com)
4 years ago

Great article, Phil. Thanks for your leadership and thoughtful observations.

Mary Anne Sharer
Mary Anne Sharer(@mwaikartgmail-com)
4 years ago

Great article, Phil. This, coupled with Chip Ross’s facts and presentation of them, should be the basis for the discussion, not “who wins, who loses” which seems to be the way most things end up around here.