It’s been an iconic landmark along Interstate 75 for more than a decade. Built in 1999-2000, the Cross Florida Greenway Land Bridge was the first true land bridge in the United States, modeled after a design used in the Netherlands. At its core, it’s a giant planter, with 87-ton beams stretching 2,000 feet across I-75 to hold soil, rock, trees, native plants, and a watering system in a thousand-ton cradle of concrete and steel.
As our Florida Trail Association trail crew, headed up by Kenneth Smith, was building the hiking trails that would eventually connect across the Land Bridge, I had the opportunity to watch the construction of the bridge and take photos.
When the bridge was complete, I was honored (thanks to Kenneth) to be the hiker who, along with a mountain biker and equestrian, cut the green ribbon to open the bridge to public use after the special dedication ceremony on National Trails Day, June 2000.
The Land Bridge was where all of our trails came together to cross I-75. While the bridge was built primarily for recreation, it also serves as a crossing for wildlife, too. Both myself and other hikers have seen a Florida panther in this area, with sightings on both sides of the bridge. More typically, small mammals like raccoons, opossum, and armadillo cross the bridge.
Over the years, I’ve watched the planted trees and saw palmetto struggle until they finally took root and began, with proper watering, to flourish in this giant planter. The native limestone used for the bridge has aged nicely.
The Land Bridge remains one of the more popular destinations for hikers, bikers, and equestrians on the Cross Florida Greenway. It’s rare to arrive there and find yourself alone, especially on weekends.
It’s not that the view of I-75 traffic is a thrill, but it is a thrill, after driving beneath the bridge for years and years, to set foot on it for the first time. John had that opportunity when we hiked the Land Bridge Loop recently.
The 3.5-mile Land Bridge Loop evolved from a relocation of the original route of the Florida Trail. Before the nice big Land Bridge Trailhead was built, the original trailhead for the Greenway was located south about a mile and a half. The original fenced parking area is still there, with blue-blazed equestrian trail leading to it and a new underpass for the equestrian trail just north of it. This was the first of several relocations of the Florida Trail on the Greenway to move it out of the “equestrian zone” and into the “hiking zone.”
In general, the Cross Florida Greenway is a mile across and has been zoned that mountain bike trails are to the north, equestrian trails to the south, and hiking trails in the middle. If you’ve hiked any part of the Florida Trail in recent times, you know that there are many trail intersections with both types of trails. I’m not sure if the zoning concept hasn’t been carried forward over the years, or if these are places where the Greenway narrows so tightly that trail systems keep crossing each other.
But back in 2000, when the Cross Florida Greenway was officially dedicated, it – and the three user groups dedicated to building trails on it – received a National Trail Award from the National Trails Symposium to commemorate “Outstanding Trail Sharing.”
Hiking 49th Ave Trailhead to Land Bridge Trailhead
Hikes on the Cross Florida Greenway
Florida Trail on the Cross Florida Greenway
Bridge to the Future (2001 article on the Land Bridge)