By Lisa ZahnerVERO BEACH — A few years from now, residents and eco-tourists may be wandering along hiking trails, bird watching from a raised boardwalk, and biking through woodland and riverfront paths in a unique 187-acre park-like setting a half-mile south of the western end of the 17th Street bridge.As reported in our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963, The Indian River Lagoon Greenway will run along a one-mile stretch of the lagoon extending from behind the southern end of Provence Bay all the way south to the wetlands behind Vista Royale and McKee Gardens. The site will link lands owned by a private developer, the Florida Inland Navigation District, St. John’s River Water Management District, the Indian River Land Trust and Indian River County in a cooperative effort to promote conservation and recreation. On this tract, the developers would construct an educational kiosk, trails, boardwalks, and observation decks which will offer visitors scenic vistas looking out over the Indian River Lagoon. Birding enthusiasts will also enjoy a wetland outpost at a pond where native water birds including a variety of ducks, herons, pelicans and egrets, as well as bald eagles, hawks, ospreys, owls and seasonal migrating birds, can be viewed in their natural habitat.If all goes well, construction is slated to begin in the fall of 2010. Ken Grudens, executive director of the Indian River Land Trust, said a recent substantial donation from the Buck family of John’s Island “will be a catalyst to move this project forward and make it a reality,” Grudens said. “I expect we would use the funds for the design phase of the project to make it grant worthy and shovel ready.”Engineer David Knight of Knight McGuire and Associates, a 25-year resident of Vero Beach and avid cyclist, donated mapping and design services to the project because of both the conservation and recreation aspects. “I like the idea that it will be open to the public and that it will make a way for people to take a nice walk in the woods. I like the idea of the trails and can’t wait to bike them myself,” Knight said. “This is just a great piece of property just typical of the coastal areas that usually get developed. I think it’s significant that it’s nice and close by, right in town.”A burgeoning Friends of the Indian River Lagoon Greenway group will partner with the local agencies to promote and enhance the greenway by raising awareness, coordinating volunteers and and conducting education programs.County Commissioners have given staff the go ahead to work with the Land Trust on drafting a management agreement for the greenway. Chief of Environmental Planning Roland DeBlois and other staffers were urged to provide support to the land trust in applying for grants from the Florida Inland Navigation District and other agencies to offset the expected $460,000 cost of initial facilities, which will include parking areas and restrooms.Commissioner Bob Solari said he was excited about having the Indian River Lagoon Greenway in his district and that he plans to “dust off” his bicycle to ride the trails when it’s completed. But the greenway, he said, is of larger importance than just another park.”People say that this is about conservation or about recreation and it is, but this is also about eco-tourism and making Indian River County an eco-tourism destination,” he said.Chairman Wesley Davis agreed, adding that he encountered eco-tourists on his last trip to the St. Sebastian River Buffer Preserve.”There was a whole group of people there from Palm Beach County and they must have stayed somewhere,” he said. “These are the kind of people who come here, spend a lot of money, and then leave — and that’s exactly what we need.”Beyond providing recreational and eco-tourism opportunities, Grudens said there are advantages to having the lands made into a greenway as opposed to just remaining vacant, undeveloped property.”The bonus is that you are more actively managing the land for the natural resources, keeping the exotics out and educating people about the Indian River lagoon. We’re improving, enhancing and educating.”For more information about the Indian River Lagoon Greenway, visit the Indian River Land Trust website at www.indianriverlandtrust.org and click on projects and the Lagoon Greenway tab.