HISTORY OF SHINGLE CREEK REGIONAL TRAIL
A project of this nature doesn’t just happen overnight. Many years of planning take place before the first shovel of dirt is turned.
According to Jim Swan, former City of Kissimmee Mayor and Osceola County Commissioner from 1982-1994, the idea of a linear park along Shingle Creek from Lake Tohopekeligia to the Orange County Line was first considered in the early 1980’s.
“The parks you see now were not in place, and the land was owned by private owners including citrus growers. I was asked to serve on a Parks Liaison Committee that included representatives from the City of Kissimmee and Osceola County. The group envisioned the Kissimmee lakefront and marina facilities that are now in place, with the creation of the Shingle Creek Regional Trail to follow. We realized that we had a huge community asset in Shingle Creek and Lake Tohopekalgia.” Property was purchased over time, and right-of-way and access agreements were part of all development permits from that period forward. No developments would be approved unless the lot lines and buildings were a certain distance from the creek to allow for the linear park. In every case, developers responded positively to the idea and agreed to the terms.
Swan said, “Individuals from both the City and County were involved in this project for a period of many years. This project was a long time coming, and took a lot of patience. There was no instant gratification but now the trail is becoming a reality.”
Key people to mention include Terry Johnson, Osceola County Parks Manager, who has been with the County for more than 40 years; and recently retired Dan Loubier, City of Kissimee Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director who helped generate funding and support for this project beginning 25 years ago when he first arrived in the City.
Previous County Commissioners Mike Bass, Larry Whaley, Charles Owen and John Pate all supported this effort from the very beginning. Bob Mindick, Osceola County Public Lands Manager, Natural Resources has also been a steadfast and valuable member of the team since 2006. Other key members are Rod Schultz from the County who worked on applying for grants and purchasing the properties; Barry Campbell, Senior Planner now retired; and Randy Schrader, current Senior Planner with the City of Kissimmee, who has led the design and construction efforts for this project since 2008.
Dan Loubier and his staff worked with land owners on 46 parcels in order to get contiguous land all along the creek, and collaborated with numerous public agencies to obtain funding and permits.
Grants used to purchase land were awarded by Florida Department of Environmental Protection Preservation 2000 (P2000) (now Florida Forever) program through the Florida Community Trust and the Office of Greenways and Trails, and Save Our Rivers (SOR) program. Those grants are an integral part of a statewide environmental protection program.
Further funding came from Osceola County’s Environmental Lands Conservation Program, whose mission is to acquire and manage environmentally significant lands with a voter-endorsed ad valorem funding source. This property tax enables the program to issue bonds for the purchase of land for water resource protection, wildlife habitat, public green space and resource-based passive recreation.
Loubier said, “Interlocal Agreements between the City of Kissimmee, Osceola County and the South Florida Water Management District were necessary to outline who was going to pay for what. Then collaboration was necessary with the Florida Department of Transportation and Metroplan Orlando. Further agreements need to be in place with regard to ongoing maintenance of the trail and security. There was a immense amount of meetings, paperwork and effort needed to be able to build this trail.”
Area residents should know that through the Trust for Public Lands and the Florida Community Trust, the City has purchased the Grass, Makinson and Paradise Islands located on Lake Tohopekalgia. Those islands are now under public ownership and for those lucky individuals with use of a boat, canoe or kayak, the islands provide an additional touring and camping opportunity in one of the the area’s most pristine, historical public areas.
The hope is that residents will enjoy the trail and creek, and that visitors might choose to “stay the extra day” to enjoy the natural Florida as well as the theme parks that attract so many from around the world. As the community looks forward to the development of the trail, the many individuals involved can be proud of their involvement and accomplishment.