Rails to trails: Turning abandoned Lee County railway tracks into walking trails

Reporter: Gail Levy Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

There is a plan wherein old railroads are sold and turned into walking and running trails for people to enjoy. A 12-mile stretch of railroad from Alico Road to Bonita Beach Road is up next for that project in Lee County.

There are homes nearby, and the people who live there are excited about a trail coming to Lee County. They think it’s something they would use a lot, but they know they also don’t want a bunch of strangers coming into their backyard.

That’s where the lawyers come into play. Regardless of what homeowners feel, the federal government can take the land, but under the 5th Amendment, they have to cough up some cash.

The idea of turning abandoned railroads into trails for hiking and biking is something people like to see.

Abandoned railway in Lee County. (Credit: WINK News)

“I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s a nice park for the county. I think it’s going to be an upgrade,” said Joseph Malinguaggio, from San Carlos Park.

“Think it’d be good for the community in general,” said Gary Finnerty, who owes property along the railroad.

Malinguaggio lives right along the Seminole Gulf Railroad. He has about a half acre of land. “That’s one of the reasons I bought this home, is I really, really liked the art, and the increased size would increase my backyard and be fantastic for the property value,” Malinguaggio said.

Now there are negotiations between Seminole Gulf Railway and the trust for public land, but the federal government has to approve the sale to turn the abandoned rail into a trail.

Abandoned railway in Lee County. (Credit: WINK News)

“It’s a really wide right of way that now is being imposed on these on these people’s property,” said Lindsay Brinton, an attorney for Lewis Rice.

Brinton’s specialty is the rail trails because when the federal government comes in, under the trails act of 1983, the easement for these projects is 100 feet wide.
So that cuts into a good chunk of malinguaggio’s backyard.

“Don’t necessarily like the idea of a bunch of people in my backyard. But I do like the idea of a trail,” said Malinguaggio

The 12 miles of railroad from Alico Rd. to Bonita Beach Rd hasn’t been purchased yet, but Brinton said it’s likely going to happen. There’s not really anyone else who is going to buy a railroad.

“These folks that live adjacent to this trail will likely want to erect some type of berm or buffer or wall to be able to protect themselves protect against potential theft or trespass and just to ensure their own privacy,” said Brinton.

Malinguaggio said that would be his plan, to build a wall or something of the sort for privacy.

The lawyers with Lewis Rice said the compensation they try and get people is based on a land value assessment of what would be in the easement.

They said they’ve won property owners anywhere from a few thousand to a few million dollars in these situations.

If the trail is built, it would likely be complete within the next five years.

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