GICIA approves landscape beautification plan

March 7, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

SUBMITTED BY THE GICIA – The Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association continues its 50th Anniversary Celebration by announcing plans for a landscape enhancement project for the Charlotte County portion of GICIA Bike Path. The GICIA Board approved project will commence with the beginning of the rainy season in late May or early June.
The GICIA owns and maintains one of the most prized amenities on Gasparilla Island, the Bike Path. At approximately five miles in length, the bike path travels from First Street to the island’s north end. It provides a beautiful island recreational feature enjoyed by island residents and visitors alike. The GICIA Bike Path property averages 75 feet in width, encompasses approximately 35 acres and is credited as Florida’s first Rails to Trails path.
The GICIA Bike Path was constructed on the former right of way of the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway. In 1983, the Bayard and Hugh Sharp families exchanged property for the CSX Railroad property and donated it to the GICIA for construction of a bike path. With the Boca Grande Community’s generous support, the GICIA was able to construct the bike path and it was officially dedicated, with much fanfare, on February 23, 1985.
In the spring of 2008, working with landscape and conservation professionals, the GICIA developed a Bike Path Master Landscape Plan that would significantly improve the appearance of the path. The Master Plan also would provide consistency of the landscaping along the entire length of path while retaining a natural look and minimizing maintenance. As a conservation organization working to protect fragile barrier island resources, the GICIA also made a conscious decision to utilize native plants that would not require irrigation or abundant use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Although landscaping of the GICIA Bike Path property was done consistently, newly planted vegetation at the northern end of the path experienced less that optimal growth. Upon careful evaluation it was discovered that a significant increase in elevation from the County line north was resulting in less retention of rainwater and dryer soil conditions. Charlotte County GIS confirms that the elevation at the northern most point of the Bike Path property is nearly seven feet higher than the swale that begins at the County line. This rise causes rainwater to drain downhill (or to the south) to the swale resulting in less-than-optimal growing conditions.
The approved Landscape Enhancement Plan takes these dry conditions into account and establishes the following guidelines. First, improve aesthetics while maintaining a plant palette consistent with the 2008 Master Landscape Plan. Second, strategically place only the most drought tolerant, dry soil surviving native plants in this section of the bike path. Three, integrate native plantings to fill spare areas and create larger landscaped and mulch planting beds. Finally, native drought tolerant wildflowers like Indian blanket and dune sunflower will be incorporated into areas where water dependent grasses have not been able to establish. This will improve the areas completely void of any green while also adding a pop of year around color.
Overall nearly 900 trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers will be planted as part of this $30,000 Landscape Enhancement Plan for the Charlotte County portion of GICIA Bike Path. Planting is planned for the beginning of Boca Grande’s rainy season to minimize the need for hand watering. This is an exciting project that will significantly improve the aesthetics of the northern section of GICIA Bike Path.
As the GICIA enjoys a yearlong celebration of 50 years working with the Boca Grande Community to preserve island life, the board of directors and staff are grateful for the continued support of the island’s residents in all GICIA’s efforts. The next time you are enjoying the Bike Path imagine Boca Grande today if there was no GICIA. If you are interested in becoming a member of the GICIA, please contact the Office at (941) 964-2667.