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‘Emerald Necklace’ Plan Sparking Hope For Progress On McCoys Creek

Will Dickey
The Florida Times-Union
Planners have considered closing to cars a long stretch of McCoys Creek Blvd., where a boy rode his skateboard near Cherokee St. this month.

People have big plans for McCoys Creek. There’s the plan to clean up lead-contaminated incinerator ash. The one to create a greenway for running and biking. The one to, someday, really handle flooding that has regularly closed roads and sometimes damaged homes.

But plans for changing the polluted Jacksonville waterway have been drawn for years without a big-picture view of how they could fit together and really serve the neighborhood around it.

An answer to that, backers hope, could come from a new plan meant to connect still more places and projects as one package, according to our Florida Times-Union news partner.

Groundwork Jacksonville, a nonprofit focused on public use of neglected land and waterways, signed a contract this month for an outside group to design a trail plan tying together the core-city creeks and parks that have been called Jacksonville’s emerald necklace.

The group handling that work, the Atlanta-based nonprofit PATH Foundation, has spent a quarter-century planning and building a larger trail system in that city, the Atlanta Beltline, that has been credited with sparking redevelopment in tired, neglected neighborhoods.

“It has been a major shot in the arm for parts of Atlanta,” Jacksonville Councilwoman Lori Boyer told the city’s Waterways Commission this month.

That example has helped build hopes an emerald necklace plan could have lasting benefits for Jacksonville.

“Seeing what PATH has done in Atlanta makes us excited not only about what we’re doing but where we’re doing it,” said Larry Roberts, president of JTC Running, a 1,000-member track club that gave $50,000 toward Groundwork Jacksonville’s trail plan.

Other organizations — the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida and the Local Initiatives Support Corp. — are also underwriting the trail plan, said Kay Ehas, Groundwork Jacksonville’s chief executive officer.

A plan for the emerald necklace won’t change anything without money to actually build something, but Boyer noted the city had already budgeted millions of dollars for engineering or construction on projects around McCoys Creek, a part of the necklace that wanders west of downtown and empties into the St. Johns River in Brooklyn.

“We had a bunch of plans that had already been done but they hadn’t been coordinated together,” Boyer said. “The real effort here is to make sure that they all work together.”

Mayor Lenny Curry last year budgeted $9 million for ash cleanup between this year and 2020, although that cleanup could be done at other places than the creek. Curry also budgeted $4.75 million for the McCoys Creek greenway by 2021.

A less-concrete plan, Duval County’s “local mitigation strategy” for reducing risks from natural disasters, listed $20 million in drainage improvements at McCoys Creek as the top need within Jacksonville in 2015, but said the city’s utility fund couldn’t cover it right then. The plan hasn’t been updated since.

Florida’s legislature included a tiny downpayment on a McCoys Creek project in the budget it approved this month, allotting $200,000 to help pay to close McCoys Creek Boulevard east of Cherokee Street with the idea of turning the road into the greenway.

You can read a longer version of this story and see additional photos on