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Bicycle path proliferation in the works

Pasco County is working to create more biking trails linking it with Hernando and Pinellas, officials say.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


Two new proposals promise to shift Pasco County's bike trail efforts into high gear. The bike paths, one in Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park and another near the Trinity community, would add critical links to a web of recreational trails that could connect St. Petersburg with Hernando and Citrus counties.

Pasco proposes a 2.8-mile paved bike trail to link existing trails at the Suncoast Parkway and the wilderness park.

An initial commitment to extend the wilderness park trail emerged from a recent meeting between county staffers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the park.

"It seems a little strange that we've got two wonderful trails with no way to connect them," said Jim Slaughter, director of the Pasco Parks and Recreation Department.

The meeting came after lobbying from the Starkeys, a Pasco pioneer family with an avid interest in bicycling. The Starkeys are installing a bike trail during construction of their 900-home Longleaf community south of the park.

Two years ago, the state agency, known as Swiftmud, tentatively agreed to the wilderness park trail, but objected to Pasco's plan to pave it. Swiftmud preferred a more environmentally sensitive limerock or gravel surface.

Slaughter said Swiftmud is more agreeable to a paved surface this time around. Asphalt is necessary to support not just bicycles, but joggers and skaters.

"We got a lot of interested parties around the table: the county, Swiftmud and interest citizens," Slaughter said. "Everybody said, 'Let's start fresh, wipe the slate clean.' "

Farther south in the Trinity community, county officials want to create a wildlife preserve that could include a bike trail running from the Pasco/Hillsborough line to State Road 54.

The Trinity plan, however, faces greater obstacles. Unlike the wilderness park, which already is state-owned, Trinity is privately owned.

The owner, Adam Smith Enterprises, said it would consider selling the required several hundred acres.

J.B. "Trey" Starkey Jr., a developer and bicycling enthusiast, said Pasco, after devoting too little money in the past to bike trails, appears to be getting serious.

The recently opened Suncoast Parkway, which has a 29-mile bike trail, is the perfect spine for a regional bike path network, Starkey said.

Once the hookup between the parkway and wilderness park is complete, the bike trail would veer south along the soon-to-be-built Starkey Boulevard to Mitchell Boulevard and Seven Springs Boulevard.

From there, the trail could merge with a spur of the 47-mile Pinellas Trail that heads east from its terminus near Tarpon Springs. The Pinellas Trail ends in downtown St. Petersburg.

Another proposal has Hillsborough County's existing Upper Tampa Bay Trail joining the Suncoast Parkway trail at Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

"You could ride a bike from Brooksville to St. Pete," Starkey said. "Pretty soon you end up with 150 miles of bike trails in the Tampa Bay area. That's a world-class attraction."

Slaughter estimates the 2.8-mile trail extension in the wilderness park will cost as much as $350,000. The county wants grants to cover about half the cost. County taxpayers would pay the rest.

The 12-foot-wide trail would follow an existing dirt road through the eastern reaches of the park, merging with the parkway trail about midway between the toll road's State Road 54 and Ridge Road interchanges. If all goes well, construction could start in about 18 months.

"It's just basically throwing some limerock and pavement down," Starkey said. "Then you've got a trail."

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