The Northern Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council (TDC) met Thursday morning and a report was given on the progress of the proposed Milton Bagdad Connection project. This project would connect the two historic communities and result in pedestrians and bicycles being able to walk and ride from the City of Milton to Bagdad Village. The first portion of the project has resulted in new sidewalks along Henry Street in Milton to the CSX railroad crossing where improvements are currently being made. In Bagdad, the County is linking the community to the new Mill Site Park. Additionally, the members were informed cost savings realized as a result of a plan change will allow for additional investment, following a staff analysis to continue developing this desirable path.

According to Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council Chair Vernon Compton, funds were used to improve the CSX Railroad Crossing to include bicycle and pedestrian safety items, such as extended crossing arms allowing safe crossing of the rail line.  In addition, said Compton, Santa Rosa County has been working on development of a new County Park, the Bagdad Mill Site Park, on the banks of the Blackwater River and Pond Creek.  A goal is to connect Milton by sidewalk to both the Village of Bagdad and to the new park being developed.  The park will have a paved multiple use trail, picnic areas, a fishing pier, boat dock, and interpretive signs.  The interpretive signs were developed by the Bagdad Waterfronts Florida Partnership, the leading Santa Rosa non-profit organization assisting with park development.  In addition, he said, the Blackwater Pyrates are donating funds to build the entrance gate for the park.  The TDC is paying for the other initial elements of the park being developed, including the multiple use trail.  The Santa Rosa County Grants Department has also secured supportive grants for the project and County Staff are completing site preparation and work on park elements. 

District 2 County Commissioner Bob Cole said he currently does not have the total cost of the project; however it depends on how public works can curtail the cost.  Cole said CSX originally wanted the crossing at Tar Plant Rd. where it follows the bike trail. So the county spent $15,000 on the engineering. He said CSX then put a halt on proceedings there saying it would not have approved of the location in the first place. Cole said he asked CSX why the site was approved and what would become of the $15,000 already spent. He said CSX returned the money, which then went to the new sidewalks. In Bagdad, the county is linking the community to the new Mill Site Park. Additionally, the members learned cost savings realized as a result of a plan change will allow for additional investment following a staff analysis to continue developing this path.

Compton said, “I am very excited to see the tremendous progress being made and so many working together on these important tourism andrecreational projects for Santa Rosa County.  Not only will the sidewalks and trails be of benefit to tourists and help to grow that important segment of the county’s economy, but also they will provide increased safety and access for citizens wishing to use parks, recreational areas, and communities.” 

Compton said overall, the different projects recently completed and others that are underway or will be underway soon will connect the existing Blackwater Heritage State Trail through the City of Milton to the historic Bagdad Village, Bagdad Mill Site Park, and the Bagdad Land and Lumber Company historic site.  The project, he said, is one segment of a network of trails connecting the Blackwater River State Forest to the Historic Districts of the city of Milton and the Village of Bagdad. “The projects will strengthen the local economy and improve pedestrian and bicycle access to recreational and historic locations,” said Compton.