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Sunday Favorites: The Legacy Trail

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We loaded up the Jeep with our bikes and set out for the Legacy Trail which runs from Sarasota to Venice.

SARASOTA -- My boyfriend Drew and I had long awaited our chance to try out the new bikes Santa had brought us for Christmas. I got a Schwinn cruiser-hybrid with seven gears; he got a Diamondback mountain bike. 

We had purchases them for one another and we wanted to go cheap, real cheap, as in under $100 cheap. Our theory was to first see if we would actually use the bikes consistently. If we really enjoyed cycling and wanted more high quality models for long distances, we could always upgrade. However, we realized while shopping for each other, we would have to double the $100 limit to get even close to what we wanted. 

Since opening our presents on Christmas Day, we had ridden casually around the neighborhood, but hadn’t taken a dedicated journey. Drew suggested the Legacy Trail in Sarasota, which was very near our neighborhood and stretched 10 miles, all the way to Venice.

Every since I had heard the trail had been constructed out of an old railroad line serving the famous Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, I wanted to try it out. 

The former railroad extended from Sarasota to Venice. It was constructed in 1911 at the request of Mrs. Potter Bertha Palmer. Palmer convinced the Seaboard Air Line to extend the railway that ran from Fruitville to Bee Ridge in Sarasota, all the way to Venice where the Palmers' company was developing land. 

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Drew enters the trail.

She also persuaded the U.S. Postal Service to move the Venice Post Office to the SAL Railway terminus, approximately 10 miles south. When the post office moved the community originally named Venice decided they’d lost their identity, so they were incorporated under another name, Nokomis. 

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers began work on the new City of Venice in 1925. For over 80 years, the railroad connected Venice with northern stations. It was associated with lumber, turpentine and tourism industries, as well as the Kentucky Military Institute, the WWII Venice army base and of course, the circus. 

The passenger service ended in 1971 and the last major commercial user, the circus, left Venice in 1991.

The thought of transitioning out of service structures, like railway tracks or bridges, to better benefit residents who enjoy recreational activities like fishing and bicycling always excites me. Although, I pictured the Legacy Trail as being very different from what it actually was.

Because the trail connects to seven major parks, including Culverhouse Nature Park in Sarasota, Osprey Junction Trailhead in Osprey, Laurel Park in Laurel, Nokomis Community Park in Nokomis, Oscar Scherer State Park in Nokomis, Patriots Park in Venice and finally ends at Historic Venice Train Depot in Venice,  I imagined the trail would meander through woodlands and allow for picnic areas in between destinations. I basically packed a picnic lunch for what I expected would be a leisurely journey.

We loaded the cooler and bikes in the Jeep and set out. The closest trailhead was at Culverhouse Nature Park on McIntosh Road. 

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One of the prettiest stops on the trail was the Nokomis Community Park, the only stop  that featured picnic tables and a waterfoutain.

I had tried to find the entrance before, riding my bike seven miles before finally giving up. It’s almost impossible to get to trailhead by riding south on McIntosh from Proctor Road. While the route starts off with bike lanes and sidewalks, when McIntosh reaches Clark Road, those amenities disappear and cyclists are forced to share the road with semi trucks and other traffic. 

When I reached Clark, I couldn’t cross where McIntosh intersected the road, as it dead-ends on the other side. Instead I had to ride west on Clark until I came to another McIntosh intersection. That’s when I decided I need another route. The safer way to go is to take Proctor to Beneva then get on the Palmer Ranch Parkway which leads write to the Culverhouse entrance. 

When we arrived via SUV, we took out our bikes out and loaded them up with supplies, never anticipating the number of people that would have the same idea on a Sunday afternoon. 

While the trail does provide shaded “stations” or rest stops along the way, it is directed more toward a non-stop exercise route. There are no water fountains, accept one at the Nokomis Community Park and port-o-lets along the way. 

The trail attracts all types of people, from pedestrians, to families, to rollerblades but the majority of people use it as a serious cycling route.

The tracks go straight through, and people ride on the trail very fast, although there is a 15-mile per hour speed limit.  We were passed by a number of people including small children, who were out of sight in a matter of minutes. 

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Residents enjoy the trail. 

Our goal was ride five miles to Oscar Scherer State Park in Nokomis. I figured we could relax there, get a little something to eat or drinks then head back five miles. Not so much. The trail enters the park on the rural outskirts. There is a very rustic entrance that didn’t look very welcoming as it had some very unfriendly terrain including sugar sand (not good for bikes).

So after five miles of riding, we turned around and rode all the way back a little disappointed in our first journey.

While the Legacy trail provides hundreds of people with a safe tract for exercise and an important history, it’s not really a recreational route. We decided we would prefer riding bikes beach side, or in a park, like Myakka State Park, where there is plenty of amenities, scenery and civilization.


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