The idea of creating a series of parks and trails to circle around the urban core of Jacksonville is far from a new one.
In fact, famed early 19th century architect Henry Klutho was among the first to propose it.
The concept of the Emerald Necklace is to link all the existing walking paths and parks around downtown, Riverside, and Springfield into a giant, connected network of walking and biking paths that could also link to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail.
There are a few existing pieces that are key to the development of the Emerald Necklace.
There’s the S-Line, an old CSX railroad stretch acquired by the city and turned into a multiuse trail, which runs from the intersection of Beaver St. and Myrtle Ave. in LaVilla to UF Health in Springfield. The trail is actually unfinished, and features another nearby portion that extends it up north all the way to the former Gateway Mall.
Another key stretch is the Northbank Riverwalk, which would act as the southern terminus for the loop.
In between, a series of parks – as well as the green space surrounding both McCoys Creek and Hogans Creek – provide the potential for connecting the dots.
For a long time, the Emerald Necklace was thought of as a dream scenario. But in 2014, the nonprofit organization Groundwork Jacksonville was launched with the mission of helping to make the dream a reality.
The loop, as proposed by Groundwork Jacksonville, would create an almost diamond-shaped loop circling around Riverside, Brooklyn, LaVilla, downtown, and Sugar Hill. Essentially, it would be a runner or biker’s version of the 295 Beltway.
The western end of the loop would run out to Hollybrook Park near Roosevelt Blvd. Going northeast, it would then run along Beaver St. until joining with the S-Line toward UF Health. At UF Health, there would be a gap in the trail before it starts back up around 8th Street, heading southeast toward the series of parks along Hogans Creek.
At the eastern end of the loop, along A. Philip Randolph Blvd., the organization proposes a new public market to revitalize the declining area.
The trail would then head south toward the Shipyards property, then continue back along the Riverwalk toward Unity Plaza in Brooklyn before completing the loop west toward McCoys Creek.
Once completed, this massive loop would allow walking, running, or biking in a complete circle around the city’s urban core. It could also potentially expand to connect to other city trails, creating a citywide network of greenways.
It’s an extremely ambitious project, and there’s still an extremely long way to go toward making it a reality.
So far, much of the work done by Groundwork Jacksonville has focused around land studies and attempting to secure funding for the project.
Its focus right now is the completion of greenways along both Hogans and McCoy Creeks – two key stretches for developing the loop.
It may take another 10 years or so, but the Emerald Necklace seems destined to become a reality. And when it does, it’ll be a huge win for Jacksonville’s walkers, runners, bikers, and fans of green space.