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Bike path to Manatee Springs in the works

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Traveling to Manatee Springs State Park by bike or foot is soon to become a whole lot safer.

In October, the Florida Department of Transportation will begin accepting bids for the construction of two five-mile-long paths along both sides of State Road 320 leading to the springs, according to FDOT Public Information Director Gina Busscher.

She said the project, which will connect with Chiefland’s existing nature trail, will cost about $2.5 million and will be paid for out of the 2009 federal economic stimulus plan.

The bike path meets one main requirement of the stimulus spending bill that projects be “shovel ready”, Jordan Green, FDOT District 2 administrator told the Levy County Commission earlier this year. He also said it helps that the right of way needed for the bike and pedestrian path was purchased at the time SR320 was done.

“We’re trying to enhance the traffic … provide an alternative to traffic,” Busscher said.” It will also get pedestrians and bicycles off the road.”

And according to Levy County Coordinator Fred Moody, getting pedestrians and bicycles off the road was the primary reason for requesting the project.

“There’s been a number of fatalities on 320 for bicyclists,” Moody said.  And area residents have been complaining for years.

Moody said the county has been asking the state to fix the problem for close to a decade.

“It’s great,” he said, “ Finally, they did listen.”

Sally Lieb, park manager for Manatee Springs, said she’s also looking forward to the added safety the paths will provide.

She said the new paths “may change the demographic a bit.”  But she doesn’t expect any drastic changes in the way the park currently operates.

“I see nothing negative about this,” she said.  “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Lieb said the park, which has 82 campsites and 158 daytime parking spaces, gets no fewer than 125,000 visitors a year—most of them by automobile.

“I’m all for the non-motorized means of travel.”

Laurie Copeland, project and finance coordinator for the City of Chiefland, said, “Everybody feels it will be a good thing."

Although, she admitted, the city is hoping FDOT’s plans will include a pedestrian crosswalk with crossing signals across U.S. 19, the crossing point to access the planned paths.