Blackwater Heritage Trail visitor center gets a spruce up

Jody Conrad | Special to the Press Gazette
Volunteers from University of Florida-Milton lend a hand to painting the Blackwater Heritage Trail visitor center.

We’ve heard that "it takes a village," and nowhere is this more true than in keeping a community’s recreational spaces up and running.

Santa Rosa is blessed when it comes to public recreation areas, but few realize what all it takes to keep those places open and inviting to the public.

Walt Schumann and his wife Sue know. 

They organize Citizen Support Organization, or CSO, projects for the Blackwater Heritage Trail. On Nov. 9 they coordinated local volunteers from the University of Florida-Milton and Lowe’s to paint the exterior of the visitor center on Alabama Street.

The Blackwater Heritage Trail visitor center sports its new paint job, thanks to the volunteers.

“Volunteers like CSO keep this trail open and appealing to the community, and like all volunteer organizations in our area, we can always use more help," Schumann said. "We keep the trail clean, remove non-native invasive plants, and write grants to fund future projects.”

Gerard Greco, who is the park’s service manager, discussed a bit of the history of the trail, which is open to hikers and bikers, and extends from the railroad tracks north of Bagdad to Whiting Field.

“This used to be a US Navy railroad spur," Greco said. "In 1993, the land was transferred to the Florida State Parks system, and CSO formed to help institute the ‘Rails to Trails’ program, which turned old rails into public use.”

Schumann added that in 1999, Locklin VoTech took on the project of building the visitor’s center.

Volunteers Will Steiner and Amy Preston get the paint ready to repaint the Blackwater Heritage Trail visitor center.

“This visitor center has public restrooms, water fountains, and a meeting area for small groups to meet," Schumann said. "It’s one of the gems of the Rails to Trails program.”

Regular volunteer Amy Preston, who helped supervise the painting project, is also a "resident host." 

“I live here in my RV, do things like open and close the visitor’s center, help keep it clean, and assist with special events like today’s painting project,” she said. “Local people who use the trail are so appreciative of our volunteer efforts.”

Student Will Steiner belongs to a University of Florida volunteer club that participates regularly in community service projects.

“I live in this community, bring my family here to use the trail, so I enjoy volunteering my time for recreational areas that I myself utilize,” he said.

The Blackwater Heritage Trail and visitor’s center is an example of gems provided by the Florida State Park system and kept up by dedicated volunteers.