Happy trails in Leesburg? Some challenge cost of nature trails

Happy trails in Leesburg? Some challenge cost of biking and walking paths

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By Tracy Jacim, Reporter

LEESBURG, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) -- If you are an avid walker or bicyclist, and you live in Lake County, you may be happy to learn than two new trails have just opened near Leesburg. 

Together, Gardenia Trail and the Leesburg Wildwood Trail provide 3.4 miles of nature trails, 15 feet wide.  Both opened Thursday with a price tag of over $1 million, paid for with a grant from the federal government. 

Self-proclaimed fiscal watchdog Vance Jochim asks, "Why should we be pulling all that money from the federal government when we've got something like a $17 trillion deficit?"

When we presented city spokesman Robert Sargent with Jochim's question, he said that the money was going to go somewhere, so why not to Leesburg?

And that's true in this particular case.  Funding is set up in such a way that cities vie for the money which is rewarded to one of those cities through the Federal Transportation Surface Program.  So, Leesburg officials see this as being proactive.

But Jochim believes the system is askew.  "They always say that!  You know, it's free money! It's coming from the federal government!  The question is, 'Are there other priorities the money should be spent on?'" 

Sargent believes the trails will enhance quality of life, and many who use them likely would agree.  Jochim points out only seeing one bicyclist in the half-hour he was out there and wonders if the trails could have waited for a time when the country wasn't facing a record deficit and high unemployment.

"I came here from California, where developers would pay for something like this to attract homeowners," said Jochim,  "but here, it's like we get it where we can."

Sargent said there is only a rough blueprint for the rest of the 24-mile trail system, and it could take as long as 20 to 30 years to complete, if the funding is available.  He said the money could come from Washington, or from the local government -- perhaps in the form of recreational impact fees, once they are reinstated in the city.

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