Bikers, hikers soon could have a trail to call their own

Connection to Lake Park only needs county approval.

Published November 17, 2006

A long-delayed walking and biking path between Northdale and Lake Park stands just one county permit away from reality.

The major stumbling blocks - permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection - all have fallen in recent weeks.

Wetland mitigation plans submitted by the Hillsborough County parks, recreation and conservation department satisfied those agencies that the trail leading to the back end of Lake Park, off Whirley Road, would not irreparably harm the watery ecology of the area.

"We're finally getting close," parks department spokesman John Brill said.

County planners must approve the request, making any recommendations they see fit, before the project can move ahead.

Northdale leaders have kept the pressure on county commissioners to make the 1.25-mile trail a reality. Commissioners have put money aside for the project, which has an estimated cost of around $450,000.

"It would be a big break," said Bill Castens, the Northdale Civic Association board member who lately has led the campaign to get the trail done. "Northdale has been waiting on this thing seven or eight years."

The community won't get everything it might have expected, though. Pinellas County, which owns Lake Park, has steadfastly refused to allow the paved trail to enter the park because of concerns that any additional paving would hurt water resources in the park.

Lake Park remains a well field for the Tampa Bay area.

As a result, people who bike or skate from the Northdale soccer fields, where the trail will begin, to Lake Park will find themselves without pavement as soon as they pass the entrance.

That's better than the current situation, Castens said. Right now, people have to go onto busy, six-lane N Dale Mabry Highway to get from Northdale to the park.

Once the county permit is issued, the parks department will have to determine the actual project cost. If it's under $450,000, the department can use one of the contractors that has a continuing contract with the county.

If over, the department would have to solicit bids for the work, a process that would push the start date back by a few months.

Once under way, Brill said, the construction should take about nine months.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813 269-5304.