Keystone Heights get grant to turn defunct railways into bike trails


KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – City council members and staff secured a grant for the “Rails to Trails” initiative, another step toward promoting recreation in southern Clay County.

The $46,000 matching grant is from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The county is adding about $130,000 to the project for a total value of $221,000, Keystone Heights City Manager Scott Kornegay said.

The funds are for construction of an asphalt parking lot and restroom facility. Trail signage and a drinking fountain will also be installed, according to city documents.

The Rails to Trails program transforms defunct railroad lines into bike trails nationwide. Rails to Trails Conservancy leaders aim one day to connect both coasts. In 2017, city officials broke ground on phase one, connecting Palatka to Lake Butler. Phase one cost about $280,000.

The new grant is part of phase two. Phase one – which included bike racks, signage, benches and a bicycle repair station – was completed last year.

“Since [phase one], we’ve been going through a grant process with the state,” Kornegay said. “We were informed about a few weeks ago that it had been approved.”

Since phase two would use the county’s bid procurement process, Kornegay said there wasn’t a definite timeline of its completion. The new trailhead would give residents another recreational option to use the trail, he said.

“It’s going to attract visitors, mainly,” Kornegay said. “Rails to Trails is a nationwide project and this will connect our community to the rest of the system.”

Kornegay said the additions for the third phase are uncertain.

“There’s some different ideas being kicked around in terms of a playground and recreational equipment, that sort of thing,” he said. “We’ve not made a firm decision in that regard.”

Keystone’s lakes have suffered a gradual drop in water level in the past decade, but a water-sharing partnership with often-flooded Black Creek has boosted morale.

Save Our Lakes, a Keystone-based water level advocacy group, turned out in force at council meetings supporting the St. Johns Water Management District’s efforts.

Touting the rise in water levels and trail improvements, Mayor Karen Lake said Keystone was providing options to visitors and residents.

“As the lakes go up, what you will find is more people will come out to enjoy Keystone’s fishing and boating,” Lake said. “There’s a wide range of activities.”

Next up may be pickleball, the tennis-like sport popular with seniors.

“I can’t believe how many times on the campaign trail I heard, ‘I want pickleball,’” Lake said.


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