March 31, 2023
Jacksonville's urban city trail
Part of the Emerald Trail will wind along an elevated roadway in Jacksonville.

Green Development

Jacksonville's urban city trail

Amy Martinez | 10/25/2019

Last March, the Jacksonville City Council approved a plan to build an urban trail system similar to the BeltLine in Atlanta. The details of Emerald Trail:

  • Length: As proposed, the Emerald Trail will link 14 city neighborhoods via 30 miles of biking and walking paths around downtown.
  • Cost: The project is expected to cost at least $31 million and take 10 years to complete. Construction is to begin next fall.
  • Cleanup: Building the trail will involve restoring two polluted creeks and converting contaminated land to parks, playgrounds and other public spaces along the trail. In addition, the trail will be developed on public rights of way.
  • First: The first phase of the project will start at the south end of an existing trail converted from old railroad tracks near downtown and run for 1.3 miles to the city’s convention center.
  • Urban boost: Advocates say Emerald Trail will help revitalize Jacksonville’s urban core, encourage healthy lifestyles and spur economic development. The trail passes by 18 schools, two colleges and 28 parks, as well as restaurants, shops and businesses.

Kay Ehas

CEO, Groundwork Jacksonville

“What research shows is that the folks who benefit the most from a trail are the people who live near it. So if you think about where this trail is going, it’s going into African-American neighborhoods. For every dollar spent on a trail, there’s almost $2 in direct medical cost savings. Property values increase, on average, 6%. I think it creates mobility equity. You don’t need a car to get around. You can walk or bike. If we design it really well — and that’s what our donors expect — it’s going to improve the aesthetics of everywhere it goes. It will improve those neighborhoods and how they look. It creates economic development opportunities. Developers are expecting a lot out of this. I had one developer from Atlanta, whose offices are on the BeltLine, call me before buying property along the trail route. His plan is mixed-use — offices, apartments, artist lofts, things like that. He knows the impact the BeltLine has had on Atlanta, and that was an impetus for him to buy the property.”

Laying the Groundwork

Founded in 2014, Groundwork Jacksonville is a public-private partnership charged with mapping out the Emerald Trail. The nonprofit — part of a national network of trusts focused on sustainable land development and restoration — also is tasked with raising half the funding for the trail; the city will cover the rest. Groundwork Jacksonville developed the trail’s master plan with the PATH Foundation, which has helped build more than 280 miles of trails in Georgia, and KAIZEN Collaborative, a trail planning and design firm based in Tucker, Ga.


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