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    Sight unseen

    The often-overlooked East-West Trail connects 11 parks. Now a state grant and city funds will allow Clearwater to make the path more traveled.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2000


    It is a young little path, humble when compared to its mighty asphalt cousin, the Pinellas Trail.

    If the Pinellas Trail is a river, this one is a stream. While the Pinellas Trail is 34 miles long and slices through some eight communities, this one is only 4.5 miles and doesn't even wind through the whole length of two municipalities.

    The Pinellas Trail runs north and south. This one roves mostly east and west.

    So it was aptly -- and plainly -- named the East-West Trail.

    Much of it is scenic; some of it is not. Some say it's difficult to find, but this trail does something the Pinellas Trail cannot: connect 11 Clearwater parks, including Cliff Stephens Park, Wood Valley Park, Moccasin Lake Park, Coachman Ridge Park, Del Oro Park, Eddie C. Moore recreation complex, the Carpenter baseball complex, Coachman Ridge Park and Northeast Coachman Park.

    It stretches all the way from Cooper's Bayou on the Safety Harbor waterfront to the Long Center near Top of the World.

    Some people say it is nebulous. Good maps of it have not yet been created.

    But the trail is evolving. Clearwater will get a $150,000 state grant and match it with $150,000 in city funds to widen certain areas of the path and pave it with a surface that will make it smoother, especially for in-line skaters.

    Plans also call for five new bridges to be placed over wetlands, a waterway and a road areas. Construction will begin soon on three sections of the trail, including a pedestrian flyover bridge that will cross McMullen-Booth Road.

    Officials at the Clearwater parks and recreation department have big dreams that it will some day be a tributary path leading to the Pinellas Trail and possibly beyond, connecting Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

    Kevin Dunbar, Clearwater parks and recreation director, predicted clean, clear access from the East-West Trail to the Pinellas Trail will become a reality in five or six years.

    "The idea is to ultimately get people to Clearwater Beach," Dunbar said.

    Missy McMullen also has big dreams, but hers involve running in a marathon. She trains for local fun runs and general fitness on the Bayshore Linear Greenway and the East-West Trail.

    Although jogging can be monotonous, she doesn't seem bored.

    She loves the tropical feel of the trail. After her warm-up, she begins her journey at the Safety Harbor Marina, running past mangroves, palmettos, ferns and one large clump of bamboo plants. Off to the side she watches the boats bob in the water.

    When she crosses over a small bridge that connects Bayshore Boulevard to Philippe Park she sees fishermen casting their lines and nets in the water.

    She watches as children play in the sand and wading birds with strange-looking bills hunt for an evening meal.

    Fiddler crabs scurry everywhere as day turns to night.

    McMullen, 48, runs for a couple of miles, and when she has exhausted her efforts at about 6:30 p.m. she cools down by walking the length of the Safety Harbor Pier.

    She does this three or four times a week with her husband Allen McMullen, a member of the pioneer McMullen family who came to Pinellas County and blazed their own trails.

    "It's beautiful," Mrs. McMullen said. "It's relaxing."

    Especially after a day of working at the family business, McMullen Roofing.

    She is sharing the trail with more joggers, walkers, in-line skaters and bicyclists each time she trains, but she's not complaining.

    Since the trail was named about five years ago, word is spreading, especially among residents who live in subdivisions along it, that it is a nice way to get from Safety Harbor to the Long Center in Clearwater.

    But be warned. Bicyclists, skaters, walkers and joggers must face some hairy crossings if they want to traverse the entire length of the trail.

    "There are a few major arteries you have to negotiate. You have to come out on the sidewalk and cross at the Drew Street traffic light. You've got to cross six lanes of traffic," Dunbar said. "At Northeast Coachman Road you have to cross over. It's a little dangerous."

    Dunbar said construction on a flyover ramp near the Eddie C. Moore softball fields will begin in a year or so to make the trail more user-friendly.

    Until then, Dunbar said many people make their way to Del Oro Park and then turn back. Just a year ago, the city completed a 0.7-mile section there that lengthened the trail to Cooper's Bayou.

    "(Pinellas County) is one of the most dangerous areas for pedestrians and bikers," Dunbar said. "This provides a safe alternative."

    Just watch out for Drew Street.

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