HIGH SPRINGS — On a windy Wednesday, Nov. 13, Kiwanis Club members, funding donors, city officials and interested residents gathered for the unveiling of the sign commemorating the opening of the new Fitness Trail. The trailhead is located behind the High Springs Cemetery at the High Springs Sports Complex and is now open to the public.
The fitness trail, now formally known as The Santa Fe Kiwanis Fitness Trail, was the brainchild of Kiwanis Club member Linda Rice Chapman. Chapman is quick to point out that she was not alone in this project and had a great deal of help from her fellow Kiwanians and the High Springs Parks & Recreation Department, under the leadership at that time of Robert Bassford. She also acknowledged the great support she received from former city manager Ed Booth.
Chapman was, however, instrumental in obtaining the grant funds for the project and keeping everyone focused. The project began in early 2017, with the group clearing a walking trail on weekends. As she says, "Many members of our club and their friends spent countless hours chopping vines and clearing brush."
Although there were setbacks, the group stayed on task and completed Phase 1 of the project. In doing so, they had to battle inclement weather, poison ivy and weed growth that seemed to be akin to the speed at which Jack's beanstalk grew in the nursery storybook.
As Phase 1 continued, club members began looking for grant programs and community support for the project. Luckily, they learned about the Clay Electric Coop, Inc.'s Operation Round Up grant program. Chapman prepared the paperwork and applied for the grant on behalf of the Club. "Clay Electric obviously shared our vision for this community project," said Chapman, "because they awarded the grant to our club."
Six months later, club members learned that the Florida Kiwanis Foundation had a matching grant program. Again they applied and were awarded the grant.
Meanwhile, it had taken so long to obtain the financing that the City went forward with a five-year master plan for recreation. “Our site had morphed into an overflow parking lot,” said Chapman.
A meeting with former recreation director Robert Bassford resulted in grouping the equipment into two pod sites, which ultimately led to finalizing the project.
The City's current Parks & Recreation Director Damon Messina sees potential in not only having the fitness trail at the Sports Complex, but also in ways in which it could be utilized and even expanded in the future. "For instance, I'm hoping we can incorporate the trail into the Frozen Foot event," he said. "I believe we could also expand the fitness trail and do another phase."
The Recreation Department's five-year plan will incorporate lighting, which could make the trail usable even after sunset. During the hot summer months, the light might be a benefit for folks who don't want to exercise in the heat of the day.
“Our five-year plan also proposes a playground in 2021,” Messina said. “That could be a real benefit to parents who want to work out and also keep an eye on their children.”
Messina was quick to praise Bassford and his recreation maintenance person, Dave Sutton, for the work they did to restore and develop the nearby fields. "They did the groundwork, so that's something we don't have to do to use and develop the sports complex," he said. "High Springs has been lucky to have open fields available for recreation. In more congested cities, available land for recreation is difficult to come by."
“This project reaches those people who cannot afford a health club membership and those with no transportation to a gym, even if they could afford membership,” said Chapman. “It gives seniors and others with limited income and transportation an incentive and an opportunity to keep fit at no cost to themselves,” she said.
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