top of page
  • Tara Crutchfield

Trail Town

Did you know Winter Haven is an official Trail Town? That designation is thanks partly to the efforts of the Parks Planning and Strategic Initiatives Manager for the City of Winter Haven, Andy Palmer. The Maryland native grew up enjoying the outdoors, hiking, biking, and running cross country. He moved to Polk County 21 years ago and has been with the City of Winter Haven for 18 and a half years. “As I’ve gotten into planning parks and capital projects, a lot of my professional and personal interests have really lined up,” Palmer said. “I try to take the community’s interest in new playgrounds, new trails, new parks, and develop them.”

The Trail Town program is through the Greenways and Trails state office, housed in the Department of Environmental Protection. “We work with them very well,” said Palmer. The FDEP defines a Trail Town as “a vibrant destination where people come together. It is a place where trail users can venture off a hiking, biking, equestrian, or paddling trail to enjoy the amenities and unique heritage of the community, benefitting the town economically and socially.”

The self-assessment for a Trail Town lists attributes including a presence of trails, access to food, lodging, support facilities/trail amenities and entertainment, social and physical infrastructure, community events, community and business support, and a shared vision.

Winter Haven has over 14 miles of interconnecting trails and connections, including complete streets, major sidewalks, and loop trails that link into our downtown with access to amenities like parks, restaurants, shops, ski shows, playgrounds, picnic facilities, tennis courts, a brewery, the Ritz Theatre, Gram Parsons’ Derry Down, apartments, and a soon to open hotel. “It’s how all those items work together, the synergy,” said Palmer.

When holding public meetings and community outreach, the City often hears that people want trails and sidewalks. “They want to have those connections between their house and schools and parks and be able to walk to work,” said Palmer. “The City, the Chamber, Main Street, a lot of the community, and our private sector all want a walkable downtown and to have all these amenities. […] One of the things that the Greenways and Trails staff and council were impressed with were our great partnerships locally.”

To further fulfill the community’s interests, the City continues to work with the Department of Transportation to go after grant dollars. Avenue C, Third Street, and South Lake Silver Drive were all projects funded through DOT. “We benefit locally from State and Federal grant dollars with a fraction of the overall costs being local investment,” said Palmer.


Winter Haven was officially designated a Trail Town in 2022. “I was super excited,” Palmer said. “It was a culmination of a lot of the City’s efforts, and it showed great partnership with the State.” He called the distinction “another feather in our cap” as a city and noted that it shows the City of Winter Haven’s continued commitment to trail development and maintenance. A celebration for the Trail Town designation kicked off at the February Slow Roll and Ski Show. A group of 100 or more residents gathered with elected officials from Tallahassee to celebrate. They participated in a “slow roll” ride through downtown, where they stopped to watch the monthly Cypress Garden Water Ski Team perform on Lake Silver and ended the ride at Grove Roots Brewery.

The Lake Elbert Trail is one example of that commitment to trail development. The 8-foot path on the south side of Dundee Road was improved about two years ago. The City spent two years working with 46 property owners around the lake to purchase the right of way and is currently finishing up another 1.8 miles to connect the west, north, and east sides for a completely paved 2.4-mile loop around Lake Elbert. The project will include a sidewalk connection to Rotary Park, some on-street parking, and a trailhead and boardwalk. In step with their One Water initiative, there will be a rain garden on Polk State College’s campus.

The City is also assisting in championing an effort by the DOT to connect Winter Haven to the many vibrant cities bridging Florida’s Coast-to-Coast Trail (C2C). The C2C is an approximately 80 percent complete paved multi-use trail running east and west across the state from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Spanning some 250 miles, the trail connects St. Petersburg and Titusville. According to Palmer, our trail system is only six miles from connecting to the C2C. “Our vision is that you’d be able to go to downtown Winter Haven on that trail,” he said. The Old Dixie Trail would connect Winter Haven to the Auburndale/Van Fleet Trail and the Coast-to-Coast system.


Winter Haven’s Sapphire Necklace, a vision of the City’s One Water Project centered around conservation, education, and long-term water storage, ties into the Trail Town ethos.  

Winter Haven forecasts continued long-term growth. “As responsible growth, one of the biggest resources we have to manage and plan for is water,” said Palmer. For years water would go into our Chain of Lakes and channel into Charlotte Harbor, Peace Creek, and then the Peace River. Very little water was stored locally. The Sapphire Necklace Project will feature properties around the city that catch and reserve rain while recharging the aquifer. These areas are envisioned to become nature parks with a linked trail system to alternative water sites.

According to, “The Sapphire Necklace is a connected network of water resources to guide the most suitable areas for development and conservation, while mindful of water storage, reuse, and recharge. The path is guided by Winter Haven’s lakes, aquifer recharge, and water storage to promote the best water strategy. Water strategy ‘looks’ different than you may think. Ultimately, water recharge and retention efforts often result in new parks and recreational areas for our families and tourists to enjoy. The Sapphire Necklace will also be home to a trail network to connect the many nature parks, neighborhood communities, and urban destinations.”

This twenty-plus year project “will help replenish much of the estimated 27 billion gallons of water lost from the past century, yielding benefits locally and across a 13-county region. “The trail runs over 40 miles to connect nature zones, neighborhoods, and urban areas. “The potential alignment interacts with twelve lakes and helps guide water runoff to recharge zones through its emphasis on nature-based design.”

“The Sapphire Necklace passes the Lake Conine Wetland Restoration Project, a great example of a water quality enhancement project happening in Winter Haven,” according to “This project is Winter Haven’s 4th wetland treatment nature park to improve water quality and reduce flooding, while adding trails and other recreational amenities in a disadvantaged neighborhood.” Roughly 32 acres were developed from overgrowth and muck into wetland pockets and plantings. Water is channeled through this wetland system and cleaned before entering the lake. Phase II of the project, expected to start construction in early 2024, will include developing a park and trail with picnic areas, a dock, restrooms, and a boardwalk.

The City also purchased land adjacent to the South Lake Howard Nature Park several years ago. They are working towards expanding the Nature Park, which would include additional stormwater treatment to improve Lake Howard’s water quality. There will be additional trail network, a frisbee golf area, a picnic area, and an outdoor classroom. Along with City investment, The Lake Conine and Lake Howard Nature Park Projects were ranked first and second among close to 100 applications from across the state to the Florida Recreation Development Assistant Program (FRDAP).

Photograph by Amy Sexson


bottom of page