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Benches, parking planned at trail


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001

Karl Schellenberg could hardly wait to ride the new bike trail at the southern end of the Suncoast Parkway.

Karl Schellenberg could hardly wait to ride the new bike trail at the southern end of the Suncoast Parkway.

Like many, the 70-year-old cyclist was too early.

"I went down with big expectations," said Schellenberg, who usually limits his riding to his Lake Keystone neighborhood. "I found there was no entrance or trailhead at the southern end of the bike trail at Lutz-Lake Fern."

As interest continues to mount, officials are putting finishing touches on the 42-mile trail that will link Hillsborough County to Citrus County. Plans are under way to equip the trailhead with a place to park cars and enter the trail.

"We're looking to start construction in six weeks but it won't take long to put in," said Tina Russo, trail manager for Hillsborough County's parks and recreation department. She predicted the trailhead will be ready by daylight savings time.

The trailhead will have benches, an information kiosk, water cooler and room to park about 30 vehicles.

"There will be parallel parking made a little longer for bike racks," Russo said. "That was the best way to get the most cars in that area."

The Florida Turnpike District set money aside for trailheads in Pasco and Hernando counties but none for Hillsborough's roughly 1.3-mile segment of the trail. That left users of the southern end of the bike path, which eventually will run from Lutz-Lake Fern in Hillsborough to U.S. 98 just south of the Citrus-Hernando County line, without any place to enter or park their cars.

The county had hoped to buy enough land for a more elaborate trailhead from the owners of a 328-tract west of VillaRosa. But when the owners decided not to sell, the state Department of Transportation offered land for a linear trail head along the northwest corner of the parkway's intersection with Lutz-Lake Fern.

The DOT has given Hillsborough permission to use the right of way until 2007. After that, the county hopes to connect the Suncoast Parkway trail to the Upper Tampa Bay trail.

Trail officials are still trying to find money to buy right of way for the last link of the bike path from Peterson Road to Lutz-Lake Fern.

Even though the trail is officially open only north of State Road 52, many recreation enthusiasts are already using other parts of it, in some cases dodging patches of sand and construction debris.

"We really don't want people doing that," Russo said. "We're trying to keep people off the construction site. If they go out there it's at their own risk."

But the area north of State Road 52 "is being maintained and operated by Pasco and Hernando counties," Russo said. "People are patrolling and keeping it clean."

-- Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468 or ripley@sptimes.com.

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