Resources and Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the Friends of the Bonita Estero Rail Trail (BERT)?
We are an all-volunteer citizen group, dedicated to bringing the Bonita Estero Rail Trail (BERT) to Lee County and our communities. Our mission is to generate public support for the 14-mile Bonita Estero Rail Trail. With our support, Lee County, Estero and Bonita Springs can acquire the rail line and build a multi-use trail for citizens and visitors to enjoy and recreate safely. We started our advocacy group in late September of 2022 and as of March, 2023 we have over 2600 members and Letters of Support from 19 communities, with many others in the works. We are also in partnership with the Blue Zone Project, Lee Health and the Bonita Springs – Estero Realtors.
A few Friends of BERT with Ned Baier of Volkert, Inc.
What is a rail trail?
A rail trail is a shared-use (also called, multiuse) path on a railway right of way. Rail trails are typically constructed after a railway has been abandoned and the track has been removed. Most rail trails become a linear park, which is a long narrow park for community members to use. One of the best examples of this in southwest Florida is the highly successful Legacy Trail that runs between Venice and Sarasota. For anyone who is not a believer in the benefits of rail trails, please visit the Legacy Trail to see first-hand how it can transform communities and increase quality of life.
What area will the Bonita Estero Rail Trail (BERT) cover?
This proposed multiuse trail will start at Bonita Beach Road in the south and end at Alico Road at the north end. This trail is roughly 14 miles long and will replace the existing, disintegrating, Seminole Gulf railroad. The width of the rail corridor is anywhere from 90 to 130 feet across and encompasses 235 acres. The rail corridor also includes several bridges crossing over major and minor tributaries that lead into Estero Bay. For conservation purposes, it would be advantageous for Lee County to own this land so that protection measures can be put in place. Protecting local water quality is an additional benefit that BERT would provide.
Why is the Bonita Estero Rail Trail needed in our area?
This multiuse trail will provide many benefits:
- Improve Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety by offering a safe area, Away From Traffic, to walk, run and ride a bike
- Improve our quality of life by encouraging physical fitness, mental wellness and healthy lifestyles
- Increase open green space and much needed areas to recreate
- Provide a paved trail where kids can learn to ride a bike and eventually, ride their bikes to school
- Boost the existing local economy and bring new, unique businesses into our area
- Increase homeowner values throughout our communities (new homebuyers snatch up property that is on or near multiuse trails)
- Connect our communities to one another
- Increase tourism spending: outdoor recreation is an economic driver
- Provide outdoor opportunities for those who may have limited mobility and are bound to a wheelchair
- Increase environmental stewardship through the use of native landscaping along the trail
- Improve local water quality in the tributaries that run under the trail by removing toxic rail ties and discontinuing the use of harsh chemicals currently used to kill weeds
- Increase a feeling of safety and security within the community (rail trails act as the ultimate neighborhood watch program as community members will be out on the trail, enjoying it, meeting and talking to each other, and making new friends)
What are the Fatality Statistics for Bicyclist and Pedestrians in Lee County?
Pedestrian and Bicyclist Deaths:
Florida is #1 in Bicyclist Deaths and #2 in Pedestrian Deaths in the United States. Lee County is one of the most dangerous counties in the United States for those who walk, run or bike. Between 2021 and 2022, there were over 1200 crashes resulting in 71 bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities by vehicle impact. Many of the people who survived now live with severe, debilitating injuries, resulting in diminished quality of life.
- In Lee County there were 319 Bicyclist crashes in 2022
- In Lee County there were 343 Pedestrian crashes in 2022
- In Lee County there were 256 Bicyclist crashes in 2021
- In Lee County there were 344 Pedestrian crashes in 2021
We have an opportunity to lower these statistics by providing safe havens like BERT to walk, run and ride a bike. If you are an elected official and you are reading this – PLEASE take action. Help protect the citizens of Lee County by making safety a priority. We need your help to build BERT.
Who is the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization and why is their trail feasibility study so important?
The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is responsible for coordinating transportation planning in the Cities of Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Sanibel, the Town of Fort Myers Beach, the Village of Estero, and unincorporated Lee County. Their Rail Trail Feasibility Study analyzes the long-term feasibility of public multi-modal transportation along the existing Seminole Gulf Railway Corridor and outside of the rail corridor as well. This study is a guide for elected officials and community members to learn, and understand more about the process.
Why do the Friends of BERT support Alternative 1 of the Feasibility Study?
Alternative 1 of the feasibility study would create a park like setting for walking, running, biking and rolling, for those in wheelchairs. Alternative 1 completely replaces the unused Seminole Gulf Rail line with a multiuse trail. Our goal for supporting this initiative is to provide open green space, in a quiet setting, which will improve physical fitness and increase mental wellness, for the members of our community. Our vision for this trail is to create something similar to the Legacy Trail that runs from Venice to Sarasota. If you are unfamiliar with rail trails please drive to Venice, which is just a little over an hour away to our north, to see this cherished multiuse trail for yourself. Afterwards you can even treat yourself by having lunch in beautiful, downtown Venice. Be sure to ask the locals how much they love their rail trail!
Who owns the land that the current rail is on?
CSX of Jacksonville sold the land under the tracks to Seminole Gulf Railway (the Fay Family) in 2018. The Fay Family now owns the railway corridor from north Naples to Arcadia.
If the 14 mile rail corridor is purchased, the new owner (possibly Lee county and/or the cities of Bonita and Estero), would own the property outright. This is know as a Fee Simple Deed.
Bonita Springs and the Village of Estero each pay the Fay Family a large annual fee for maintaining the railroad crossing equipment where the rail crosses our roads even though the Seminole Gulf Railway has been inactive in our area for the last 12-15 years. Purchasing this 14 mile corridor would bring control of the land back to our local elected officials and our communities. This is yet another reason to support the BERT project.
Who is negotiating the purchase of the land?
The Trust for Public Lands (TPL) is negotiating with the Fay Family who own the Seminole Gulf Railway. The Friends of BERT is not part of the negotiation process but the Leadership Team is kept informed. TPL was involved with the Legacy Trail negotiations.
The Trust of Public Lands was founded 50 years ago, in 1972. They work under the conviction that all people need access to nature and the outdoors, close to home, in the cities and communities where they live. They work with communities to create parks and protect public land where they’re needed most, as a matter of health, equity, and justice. Click here to see the Trust of Public Lands Florida projects.
What is the land value appraised at?
In 2021 the rail corridor land was appraised at 70,465,000. The price is due, in part, to the fact that there is nothing else like it in our area. It would be nearly impossible to recreate this 14 mile corridor anywhere else today which is why the land is so valuable.
In price comparisons, the Village of Estero, paid 24,169,000 for what is known as the “Estero on the River Trails.” This 61.5 acre parcel encompasses sensitive conservation land that runs along the Estero River. Elected officials from the Village of Estero saved this environmentally significant land from being clear-cut for more development. This was a smart move by City Councilmembers to protect and preserve open space for the residents of Estero.
The land that the rail corridor is on also needs protection and conservation, and this can only be achieved by purchasing the property. While the number amount may seem high to some, it is inline with the actual value of the land. On a side note, government entities are not allowed to pay more than the apprised value of property.
What role do Friends of BERT members play in this process?
The role of Friends of BERT is to show support and advocate for this paved multiuse trail and ultimately, to keep the process moving forward. Members are encouraged to attend City Council and County Commissioner meetings. When we attend these meetings in large numbers, wearing our Friends of BERT T-shirts, we have a huge impact! Members are also encouraged to write letters and emails to elected officials. Your opinion matters and your letters are being read, so please let them know that you support BERT. We encourage you to always be respectful and polite when corresponding with elected officials. These are hard-working people, just like ourselves, who are making big decisions that will shape the future of our communities. They need our support and encouragement.
Lee County Commissioners:
District 3: Ray Sandelli, Vice Chairman, Phone:239-533-2223, Email: email@example.com
District 2: Cecil Pendergrass, Chairman, Phone:239-533-2227, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
District 1: Kevin Ruane, Phone:239-533-2224, Email: email@example.com
District 4: Brian Hamman, Phone:239-533-2226, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
District 5: Mike Greenwell, Phone:239-533-2225, Email: email@example.com
Bonita Springs City Councilmembers:
Rick Steinmeyer, Mayor: rick.steinmeyer@ cityofbonitasprings.org
District 1: Jamie Bogacz, firstname.lastname@example.org
District 2: Jesse Purdon, email@example.com
District 3: Laura Carr, firstname.lastname@example.org
District 4: Chris Corrie, email@example.com
District 5: Nigel Fullick, firstname.lastname@example.org
Village of Estero City Councilmembers:
District 4: Katy Errington, Mayor: email@example.com
District 1: Joanne Ribble, firstname.lastname@example.org
District 2: Larry Fiesel, email@example.com
District 3: Jon McLain, firstname.lastname@example.org
District 5: Jim Boesch, email@example.com
District 6: Jim Ward, firstname.lastname@example.org
District 7: Jim Wilson, email@example.com
Who will pay for this project?
There are two separate costs. The first is for the rail corridor land and the second is for the development of the trail. The good news is, state Sun Trail Network dollars will pay for the majority of the trail development while the land purchase dollars will most likely come from municipal, county, state, federal and likely private fund sources.
What is the FDOT SUN Trail Network?
The Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail network is the statewide system of high-priority (strategic) paved trail corridors for bicyclists and pedestrians. Today, the SUN Trail network includes a combination of existing, planned, and conceptual multiple-use trails; it is a refined version of the Florida Greenways and Trails System (FGTS) Plan’s Land Trails Priority Network. BERT is already included in this plan and eligible to receive Sun Trail funding as long as we build our multiuse trail along the rail corridor which will connect to other trails to the north and south.
What is the timeline of the Bonita Estero Rail Trail project.
This is a 5 year project depending on how quickly land price negotiations are agreed upon and how quickly elected officials approve moving ahead on this project.