A ten-mile multi-use path closer to reality after Florida adds segment of trail to list of funding priorities.
An ambitious, grassroots effort to build a public greenway from Scenic Heights to West Pensacola achieved an important milestone this week. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state’s Office of Greenways and Trails, has added the Scenic Highway segment of the project to its list of funding priorities.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to ratify the decision this month, and once that happens, the project will be added to the Florida Department of Transportation’s SUN Trails map, which the agency uses to allocate funding to trails projects across the state.
The Bluffline — as the Pensacola project is known — would knit together existing public parks via neglected rail and utility rights of way to create one continuous multi-use path stretching from Chimney Park, in Scenic Heights, to “Jackson Lakes,” more than 50 acres of county-owned land that is located between Navy Boulevard and Jackson Street.
The project is being spearheaded by Bluffline, Inc. — a nonprofit started last year by a small group of community advocates led by Jarah Jacquay, of Pensacola. Jacquay, who now serves as the organization’s president, said that this week’s announcement was both a big win for public safety and validation of the Bluffline vision.
“We are thrilled that Tallahassee recognizes the need for more pedestrian infrastructure on the Scenic Highway corridor,” Jacquay said. “Projects like this help ensure that every family in Escambia County has access to safe transportation and create the kind of quality of life that will attract new money and talent to our community.”
Though the Bluffline has gained public traction only recently, it builds on ideas that have been circulating for decades. This week’s development is the result of years of patient lobbying by Jacquay, city staff and others in the community.
Jacquay specifically credited Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves’ administration for its renewed focus on issues of transportation safety and access and for helping to push the Scenic Highway project across the finish line.
The idea of a multi-use path along Scenic Highway has been discussed since at least the early 2000’s and was included in a corridor master plan commissioned in 2012 by the Scenic Highway Foundation. The concept has gained renewed momentum in recent years, thanks to the public’s growing desire for healthy, active transportation options and the coincident growth in traffic-related injuries and fatalities on high-speed, car-dominated roadways. The issue hits particularly close to home for Jacquay, who lives with his wife and five young children just a short distance from Scenic Highway.
“I initially became interested in this issue out of a simple desire to walk down to Bay Bluffs Park with my kids and not fear for our safety,” he said. “I’ve been working to move this project forward since 2016.”
Though this week’s development is positive, Jacquay said much work remained to be done — both to ensure the Scenic Highway portion of the Bluffline is developed in a way that honors the public’s wishes and to see that funding flows to portions of the Bluffline beyond Scenic Highway.
“This portion of the Bluffline could be built either alongside the road or down by the waterfront at the foot of the bluffs,” Jacquay said. “Our own research and experience has convinced us that most local residents want to see the trail developed along the water. However, the public needs to remain engaged with the process to ensure that happens.”
Likewise, Jacquay said receiving the SUN Trail designation for the Scenic Highway segment of the path was just one step in realizing the larger vision for the Bluffline corridor.
“There are a lot of other neighborhoods that would benefit from this kind of funding and support,” Jacquay said, “particularly in areas like West Pensacola where fewer people own cars. Our hope is that the Bluffline can unite Pensacola’s diverse neighborhoods around a shared vision for the future, so that we can all celebrate our wins together. The Bluffline is a bold idea, but this week’s news bolsters our confidence that we can accomplish it. The end result will be a better Pensacola for everyone.”
About The Bluffline
The Bluffline is a grassroots effort to reconnect Pensacola residents with their environment and each other — by building a public greenway from Scenic Heights to West Pensacola. Bluffline, Inc. is the 501(c)3 nonprofit charged with realizing the Bluffline vision. For more information, or to donate, visit www.bluffline.org.