St Johns River-to-Sea Loop promises downtown renewal
HASTINGS, FL -- One year after residents voted their city out of existence, the opening of a new section of Florida’s longest bicycle trail through town – the 260-mile St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop -- promises a new day for this once vibrant hub of a tri-county agricultural area.
When the trail is complete a Ribbon Cutting and Trail Celebration will take place in downtown Hastings. The date has not been finalized but already event planners forecast between 1,000 and 2,500 will show up to celebrate the turnaround of the long-down-on-its-luck commercial district that they expect the new trail to set in motion.
From 10:00 to 2:00, food, fitness and fun will mark the old-fashioned event. Bunting will drape buildings along North Main Street as bands play and kites, drones and balloons fly. Food trucks, cottage industries and a farmers market will highlight America’s original farm-to-table corridor that’s as old as St. Augustine itself.
Kids will enjoy bounce houses, facepainting and games, older folks compete at horseshoes. Pop-up parks will indicate what a refreshed street could start to look like.
Prizes will be given every 30 minutes from 10:30 to 1:30 (excluding noon) from the sponsors’ booth area.
Starting at 11:30, cyclists in their colorful wear will converge where the trail crosses North Main Street at St. Johns Avenue. At noon, Bishop Thomas Cave of The Lord’s Temple will offer the invocation. Nancy Quatrano of Hastings Rotary and Danny Johns of Blue Sky Farms will welcome the gathering.
Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance President Maggie Ardito will tell how long-distance trails are helping revive Florida towns elsewhere that have suffered economic decline.
At noon, St. Johns County Commission Chair Henry Dean will snip the ceremonial ribbon.
The new trail section runs 20.8 miles between Vermont Heights and Palatka. It crosses Deep Creek on a trail-exclusive bridge and soars protected from cars and trucks on the Memorial Bridge across the St. Johns River.
Alliance involvement in Hastings turnaround began May 31 with an investors workshop attended by 81. Properties have since changed hands. Norma D’s Kitchen is expected to open on North Main ahead of the trail. Investment is expected to quicken as the trail opening nears.
The celebration marks the chief public event of the 2nd annual St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance Summit that begins in Palatka and ends there after the Hastings event with river tours, local bike rides, and a wine stroll.
Top sponsors of the celebration include FPL, Flagler Hospital, Flagler College, Nissan of St. Augustine, and UnitedHealthCare,
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