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Rails to Trails

Getting in great shape can mean working up steam on the path of a railroad that once rolled between Sebastian and Fellsmere dating back to 1896 in north Indian River County.

Bicyclists, joggers and walkers alike can enjoy the new trail now that its 12-foot wide, gleaming Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail pedestrian bridge is scheduled to be opened this summer over Interstate 95 as part of 2-mile, $4.6 million greenway project by the Florida Department of Transportation.

“It is staggering, absolutely gorgeous,” said Phil Matson, staff director of the Indian River County Metropolitan Planning Organization. “It’s built on what was originally a railroad bed for passenger and freight trains. Now, people will be getting recreation on it.”

The old railroad went between Sebastian and Fellsmere from 1896 to 1952 and carried everything from passengers to such freight as lumber, logs, muck, sugarcane, pineapples and other produce. The line connected to the Florida East Coast Railway and meant cities along the East Coast, as far as New York City, could have Fellsmere citrus and produce within a day or two.

The original Fellsmere rail line was dubbed the “dinky line” by the locals. Railroad buffs note that “dinky” was the common name for most short but important railroad lines at the time. The “dinky” rail line is being remembered in a big way. Huge lettering is incorporated into the bridge design for every motorist to see going north and south along I-95. The pedestrian bridge is made to last and stand strong over I-95 as a 325-foot link between the Fellsmere and Sebastian trails, Matson said.

The overpass is “bookended” with two welcome and informational buildings on County Road 512. A wooden-styled building with the Kitching Switch Trailhead sign will serve as a welcome center on the eastern side at the North County Aquatic Center. On the west side, a plank-styled welcome center already exists at the Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve, Matson said.

In total, 17 miles can be traversed, and parking is available at existing park lands and public parking areas along the trail. There is hope in the bicycling community it could lead to more awareness, safety and recreational opportunities for bicyclists and walkers throughout the Treasure Coast.

“The new bike trail is a great enhancement to the riding community,” said Malcolm Allen, owner of Orchid Island Bikes and Kayaks.

Allen also serves on the board of directors for Bike Walk Indian River County Inc. The group is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) coalition of community volunteers whose mission is to promote safe bicycling and walking as transportation and recreation for a healthier, more vibrant and connected Indian River County.

“Bike Walk Indian River County is working hard to improve the county’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure,” Allen said. “This is a great step and the start of a beautiful trail that could lead to larger trail system throughout the area. Maybe even along Indian River County canals.”

Fellsmere Rail History

• The standard gauge Fellsmere Railroad was completed in 1919 with 60-pound rail to replace the old Sebastian & Cincinnatus narrow-gauge railroad built in 1896 between Sebastian and Fellsmere.

• The Fellsmere Farms Co. used the 10-mile-long railroad from September 1910 until May 1, 1911, for carrying logs to the Florida East Coast Railway in Sebastian and for transporting supplies, materials, equipment and heavy machinery used for excavating drainage canals to Fellsmere.

• The railroad officially opened to the public on May 1, 1911 and ran four passenger trains daily with only two on Sunday to and from Sebastian and Fellsmere.

• On Jan. 23, 1913, the 12-by-32-foot Fellsmere Depot was opened for service with Edward Nelson Fell, the founder of Fellsmere, purchasing the first ticket. The depot was built on the south side of the main line north of the intersection of Broadway and South Carolina Avenue.

• By April 1915, the railroad was extended another 6 miles west of Fellsmere to Broadmoor (a now nonexistent town).

• On June 2, 1924, The Trans-Florida Central Railroad (dubbed the “Dinky Line”) took over railroad operations.

• On Nov. 30, 1952, the railroad officially ceased operations after 42 years of service.

Source: Florida Heritage site information

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