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With miles of trails and sidewalks amid luxurious landscaping, the newly opened Bonnet Springs Park west of downtown Lakeland is quickly becoming a magnet for people who enjoy walking, jogging, biking and skating outdoors. But many people who want to walk TO the park face an obstacle just before they get there: a 500-foot trudge next to a busy roadway, part of it a two-foot sidewalk under a train overpass but most of it a litter-strewn dirt path.
The walk along Bonnet Springs Parkway — formerly known as Sloan Avenue — is in stark contrast to the wide, asphalt multi-use paths on either side. The path north from George Jenkins Boulevard welcomes visitors to the 168-acre, privately funded park that is free to the public. To the south is an equally welcoming trail around Lake Beulah.
The city of Lakeland is investigating several alternatives for improving pedestrian and bicycle access to the park, but it’s too early to say how long that will take, according to Ryan Lazenby, the city’s engineering manager.
Lazenby’s department has studied nine options for improving pedestrian and bicycle connectivity in the area and is recommending five for further analysis, he said.
The draft study has been submitted to the Florida Department of Transportation for review and input. “We are hoping to receive input from FDOT within the next couple of weeks before sharing the draft study with CSX railroad, city management, and the City Commission,” Lazenby told LkldNow via email.
The solution will likely involve a partnership between the city, the Department of Transportation and CSX, he said, adding, “We do not have a preferred recommendation identified or a project schedule established at this time.”
In addition, the city and the park’s developers are looking for additional longer-term solutions for getting pedestrians and bicyclers into the park.
The Central Florida Regional Planning Council has applied for a $2 million federal Reconnecting Communities grant on behalf of the city, according to Chuck Barmby, the city’s planning and transportation manager.
He said the purpose of the grant would be to analyze several potential connections between the park and several nearby areas:
- Downtown West
- The North Lake Wire neighborhood
- The proposed Lakeland intermodal transportation center between the RP Funding Center and the CSX tracks
- The apartment complex planned for the former Florida Tile site just east of the park
- Memorial Boulevard
“The analysis will include extensive stakeholder engagement from the nearby neighborhoods and property owners,” Barmby said. “Their input will be critical to establishing improvement options and funding priorities.”
City commissioners in particular have pushed for a connection between the park and Lake Wire to improve access from downtown.
Currently it’s a quick drive between downtown and the park entrance via Main Street.
Main Street is also the quickest pedestrian route between downtown and the park. It’s about a 22-minute walk, but there is no sidewalk for much of the trip. A walk along Lemon Street may take a few minutes longer, but there’s a sidewalk and landscaping most of the way.
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