Long-Awaited Dunnellon Blue Run Trail Extension Under Construction

Withlacoochee River and Dunnellon Trail Bridge.
Withlacoochee River and Dunnellon Trail Bridge.

Since 2008 the Blue Run Trail in Dunnellon, Florida remained unfinished until a recent grant and some out-of-the-box thinking paved the way for its completion.

The Withlacoochee State Trail, which lies in Inverness and extends south toward Dade City, is currently used for hiking, biking and skating. 

Connected to the north of the Withlacoochee State Trail is the Dunnellon Trail, featuring a bridge over the Withlacoochee River. Once over the bridge, visitors hit an unfinished footpath.

This footpath connects the Dunnellon Trail to the Blue Run Trail.

The area of the Blue Run Trail, which connects the city of Dunnellon to the Dunnellon Trail, is currently dirt and grass.  It was not completed during the original construction in 2008 or the Dunnellon Trail Project, which has been in the works for more than a year.

Dunnellon City Manager Eddie Esch said the main trail, the Dunnellon Trail crossing the Withlacoochee River, was completed this year. However, the small connector piece, which was supposed to be finished at the same time, was left out of the funding.

Aerial view of the Dunnellon Trail Bridge
Aerial view of the Dunnellon Trail Bridge

Gina Peebles, director of Marion County Parks and Recreation , said the expansion is being spearheaded by the city of Dunnellon in partnership with the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails. The county manages the Blue Run of Dunnellon Park, a 32-acre park adjacent to the Rainbow River.

The project was originally developed with Florida Forever funds, but Esch said this new expansion is being funded by a Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant in a creative way.

In Dunnellon, a sewage plant called Rio Vista needed to be decommissioned. To do so, the FDEP required Dunnellon to buy state land as an “in-kind, net-benefit project,” Esch said.

In other words, to decommission the plant, the city would need to do some environmental good elsewhere.

Because buying and finishing the land on the trail could qualify as this “in-kind” project, the FDEP grant would consider the expansion part of decommissioning the sewage plant.

Construction will take place on higher land to complete the trail. Otherwise, Burt Eno, president of Rainbow River Conservation, Inc., said they would have had to fill in some wetlands.

“What we negotiated between the Office of Greenways and Trails and the city of Dunnellon was to provide an easement on the south end of the Blue Run Park to locate that trail on high ground rather than going through the swampy area,” Eno said.

Once the current trail expansion is complete, people will be able to park their cars at the Withlacoochee Trail and walk from Citrus County to Marion County through the Dunnellon and Blue Run trails.

“This trail project is very important as far as ecotourism because folks do travel quite a long way to see the different plants and animals that we have here that they may not have at home,” Peebles said.

Before the section of the path that connected the Blue Run and Dunnellon trails closed for construction, it could only be walked.

“It was used basically just for hiking,” Esch said. “Now, it will fully support hiking, biking, jogging, rollerblading.”

Construction should be complete by December.

About Seantyel Hardy

Seantyel is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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