Rails-to-Trail project in Lynn Haven, Florida
Historically speaking, Lynn Haven, located in Bay County, in the Florida Panhandle, was founded by former Yankee soldiers after the Civil War, so it is quite unusual for the Northwest Florida area. The north/south avenues are all named after states, and the east/west streets are all numbered, but dividing this small town is 4.5 miles of abandoned railroad tracks that belong to the Department of Defense. Very recently, the City of Lynn Haven was given the first opportunity to accept deed to the property, in lieu of $1.7 to $3.5 million at some time in the future. The money would more than likely come from a developer, and not the City, since that appears to be the condition of the offer. The property that the 4.5 miles of railroad line connects to was a DOD fuel depot which has been under environmental reclamation for nearly 10 years, hence the slowness of the railroad line having never been developed prior to now.
In 1996, the vision for this rail trail idea was presented to the local Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for consideration by Wayne Matthews, who at the time was the City of Lynn Haven Planner. A group formed soon after called the “Lynn Haven Trails Committee,” which started a very sincere and passionate group headed by Neil Lamb, Francis Whitcoff, Henry Lawrence, and several other local citizens. At the time, Francis was a Lynn Haven City Commissioner, but she was the only elected official that supported the idea. Many meetings were held, including a workshop at Gulf Coast Community College. At this meeting, a standing room only crowd shared in presentations where staff from the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Florida Rails To Trails Conservancy discussed the merits and benefits of the 4.5 mile railroad line being converted into a Rails-to-Trail project. Unfortunately, the proposed project died due to a City Manager, John Lynch, and Mayor Walter Kelly, who had other plans.
2014 brought a NEW City Manager, Joel Shubert, and a new City Commissioner, Rodney Friend, and an opportunity by DOD to finally get this project rolling again. The Lynn Haven Trails Committee is no longer, but hopefully, a new citizen led group can be reignited with this opportunity on the table. I will do all within my power to help make the Lynn Haven Rail Trail a REALITY!
Henry Lawrence is currently on the Florida Bicycle Association Advisory Board, he was also one of the founders of FBA, and he was FBA Board President from 1997-98.