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All hail the trail

Lest we forget, 34 miles of recreational ribbon cuts through Pinellas.

By SANDEE DAVIES
Published July 20, 2007


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Since the turn of the 20th century, a transformation has chugged along to the benefit of bikers, bladers, walkers and runners.

In the early 1900s there were more than 300,000 miles of railroads in the United States. Today the network has dwindled to less than 140,000 miles. Rail corridors became ideal for constructing pedestrian paths that connect communities. The conversion started as early as 1939. By 2005 there were 1,200 trails extending more than 13,150 miles in the nation.

In Pinellas County the idea was born of tragedy. In 1983, after his son was killed in a bike accident, a man organized bicycle enthusiasts, who joined with the Pedestrian Safety Committee. At the same time, the county was trying to determine what to do with a 34-mile corridor of abandoned CSX railroad rights of way.

The first 5-mile section of the Pinellas Trail opened in 1990, connecting Taylor Park in Largo to Seminole City Park.

The linear park now extends over the entire 34 miles, and eight overpasses allow trailgoers to travel above traffic at busy intersections. One of the goals is the completion of 75 miles of trail by 2020. In north Pinellas, a proposed leg will run parallel with the existing trail on the east side of the county. In south Pinellas the plan is to extend it to downtown St. Petersburg, and north on First Street to Weedon Island and the Friendship Trail.

It is estimated that 100,000 people use the trail each month.

"The trail has become a part of the ecotourism of the area," said Scott Daniels, president of Pinellas Trails Inc., the citizens organization that helped the trail come to fruition. "People come here from all over the world, and next to our beaches, the Pinellas Trail is the second most appreciated amenity in our area."

For those who pedal with a vengeance and find themselves dreading the return ride, there's help: the Bikes on Buses program.

The "Guide to the Pinellas Trail," a free pocket-sized flip chart map, is available at the trail office, area libraries and the Pinellas County Courthouse information desk and on the Internet. It includes details on rest stops, service stations, restaurants, pay phones, bike shops, park areas and much more along the entire length of the trail.

Trail guide

For more information on the trail, call the county office at 549-6099 or check Pinellas Trails Inc.'s Web site at www.pinellastrails.org for the downloadable trail guide. (The organization also collects donations for the Trees for the Trail fund or toward benches, water fountains and bike racks. For more information or to donate, call 480-3515.)

Volunteer rangers

The Auxiliary Rangers are available to answer questions, give assistance and keep an eye on the trail. The program requires a commitment of at least 12 hours a month. Uniforms are provided. For more information call the Pinellas County Volunteer Department at 464-4600.

Bikes on Buses

To find bus routes near the trail and get information, call the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority at 540-1900 or see www.psta.net and choose the "riding PSTA" link.

[Last modified July 19, 2007, 22:49:59]


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