By Matt Walthour
School will be out soon and you are possibly thinking, what can we do with the kids this summer? Or maybe you are just looking for something to do with a friend or significant other, but then again being alone might sound like fun, too. As a cyclist, many of the trips I take somehow or other a bicycle becomes involved. Call me crazy, but I enjoy bicycle riding, whether it’s a casual cruise around the Keys or a longer ride on the Pinellas Trail in the Tampa Bay area. I just enjoy the ride no matter the distance.
There are multitude trails around the State of Florida ranging in distance from a mile to 40 miles or more. Most of the trails are paved and some have hard packed limestone, which is still a very nice surface to ride on. A lot of the “rails to trails”, trails built on defunct railways, are surfaced using packed limestone. Speaking of rails to trails, the first one built in Florida was the Gasparilla Island – Boca Grande Trail. It is only about six miles long, the length of Gasparilla Island, and has a nicely paved surface. It is a cool, leisurely paced ride through the quaint town of Boca Grande. Several times along the trail you may find yourself cruising next to the beach and dodging the many iguanas that cross the trail. It’s a great experience.
A great trail to ride is the Pinellas Trail whichwas the idea of a man whose son was killed while riding a bicycle. In 1983, the bereaved father helped form the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. At the same time, Pinellas county officials were wondering what to do with 34 miles of old railway that had been abandoned in the county. The dream of this man was about to be realized. In 1990, the first five miles of the trail opened, linking Taylor Park in Largo to Seminole Park in Seminole. The trail became so popular that Pinellas County enacted the first Penny for Pinellas, a one-cent local option sales tax. Now the plans to continue the trail to connect the county from north to south could go forward. As of 2011, with the completion of the East Avenue section of the Pinellas Trail through downtown Clearwater, the trail is now 37 miles long.
The Pinellas trail is about 15 feet wide and is shared with runners, walkers and more. You will find trail maps and mile markers along the whole route, along with sheltered benches on which to take a rest. Like to shop? Maybe stop for a nice lunch? When cruising through the quaint town of Dunedin you will find many art galleries, antique shops and eateries, so stop, shop and just enjoy the ride. Views of the Gulf of Mexico are only two blocks away. Along the route you will cross many bridges, about nine in all. Once you enter the quiettownship of Palm Harbor, pause on the Bayshore Boulevard pedestrian bridge at Mile Marker 29 for more Gulf scenery. There are also many bicycle shops along the trail that rent bicycles, so next time you are in the Pinellas county area, try a little bike ride along the trail.
Looking for some trails a bit closer? Try Shark Valley, just beyond The Miccosukee Indian reservation heading toward Miami on US 41. Bicycling at Shark Valley is probably one of the best ways to experience the true nature and beauty of the Florida Everglades. You will find yourself among alligators, blue heron, turtles, deer and much more. The trail at Shark Valley is a paved, 15-mile loop with an observation deck halfway round. The loop may take the casual rider about 2-3 hours to complete, depending on what you wish to stop, observe and enjoy. The park is open seven days a week from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Bike rentals are available. Enjoy the day biking through the Everglades and on your way home, stop by Joanie’s Blue Crab Café on US 41 in Ochopee. Great food and a fun atmosphere.
For more information on trails throughout the State of Florida: www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/index.htm
Matt Walthour, a Marco Island resident since 1985 is a graduate from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and is the owner of Island Bike Shop and Scootertown on Marco Island and Naples. He is also a member of the Marco Island bike path ad-hoc committee.