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Sunday, October 01, 2023

Alachua County breaks ground on new trail, man arrested in nature walk sexual harassment incident

The suspect was arrested under indecent exposure charges

<p>La Chua Trailhead overlooking the water as seen January 30, 2022.</p>

La Chua Trailhead overlooking the water as seen January 30, 2022.

Alachua County Public Works began construction on a new trail along Archer Road July 14, nine days after a man allegedly sexually harassed a woman on the popular nearby Hawthorne Trail. 

It was not an isolated incident.

Police arrested Jonathan Dow, a 33-year-old person without a home, for allegedly sexually harassing a woman near the La Chua Trail overlook. One victim filed a complaint after being harassed July 5, and law enforcement made contact with Dow July 12, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Art Forgey said. He was connected with medical professionals, but police arrested him for the same offense Friday. 

According to the arrest report, Dow allegedly sexually harassed and exposed himself to several citizens on the Hawthorne Trail. He is currently being held at the Alachua County Jail on a bond of $10,000.

Friday’s victim was at the Alachua Lake Overlook on La Chua Trail — about 2 miles away from the July 5 incident near the Sweetwater Overlook — when she noticed Dow exposing himself, according to the arrest report. She declined Dow’s verbal advances, but he began following her. She was able to escape on her bike. 

Bianca Maesa, a 25-year-old Gainesville resident, said she had a similar experience on Hawthorne Trail about four months ago. She was biking when she noticed a man with his pants down. She rode past him without stopping, she said. She was also hit by a car around the same time; her head broke the car’s windshield, she said, and she was launched 20 yards.

She would like Gainesville to prioritize pedestrians and bikers, rather than cars, when constructing the newest trail, which will span from Southwest 75th Terrace to Southwest 41st Boulevard in December. She said she looks forward to greater trail accessibility amid recent gas price hikes, but speed bumps near crosswalks would help ensure the best trail experience.

Noah Hagen, a 23-year-old Gainesville resident, is excited for the trail’s connection to Archer Braid Trail, but she hopes proper lighting will prevent people like Dow from populating the path at night. 

Existing street lights will illuminate the trail in this section of Archer Road, Thomas Strom, transportation engineering manager of public works, wrote in an email. 

The 10-foot-wide asphalt trail, which will be built on land that belongs to Gainesville Regional Utilities and the Florida Department of Transportation, will cost more than $1 million and will be maintained by the county, he said. 

The Florida Greenways and Trails System Priority Trails Network determines which shared-use non-motorized trails receive funding. 

The county commission applied for SUNtrail funding in 2016, and the project was placed in the FDOT Five Year work program in 2017.

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Tourism is another reason to invest in trails, Kristen Young, vice president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation, said. 

“Trails are the number one requested amenity in communities in Florida,” Young said.

Outdoor tourism such as bicycle tourism, which is facilitated by robust trail networks, benefits smaller towns because it allows people to bike places they would otherwise not visit by car, she said.

Construction is not expected to create any major traffic delays, and no lane closures are anticipated, Strom wrote. 

Not only does the new trail provide an opportunity for Gainesville residents to exercise and have some outdoor recreation, Hagen said, but it also makes transportation for those without a car or motorcycle more accessible. 

“It's really important to provide these sorts of amenities so people can get around in an environmentally sustainable way,” Hagen said.

Contact Fernando at Follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.

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Fernando Figueroa

Fern is a junior journalism and sustainability studies major. He previously reported for the University and Metro desks. Now, he covers the environmental beat on the Enterprise desk. When he's not reporting, you can find him dancing to house music at Barcade or taking photos on his Olympus.

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