Pasco wants a say in path of recreational trail

The Florida Department of Transportation is studying the proposed path for the South Sumter Connector Trail, a segment needed to close a gap in the planned 275-mile Coast-to-Coast (C2C) Connector Trail.

Two routes are being considered for the connector, but just one passes through Pasco County. Most of both possible routes is in Sumter County, but the stakes are high for communities in Pasco, Sumter and Hernando counties that envision opportunities for recreation, tourism and economic development.

Kathryn Starkey

Kathryn Starkey

The completed trail will pass through nine counties and link nearly 20 trails across the state from Pinellas County to Brevard County.

The issue is slated for discussion on Sept. 10, at the 10 a.m. meeting of the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization’s monthly board meeting. The session will be at the Historic Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City.

The agenda will focus on gathering public input for a southern route that begins along abandoned rail beds in northeast Pasco, parallels State Road 50, and crosses through the Withlacoochee State Forest. It ends in eastern Sumter.

“The trail is going to be marketed internationally to a very active group of travelers,” said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.

“I think it’s going to be a really good tourism draw for our county,” added Starkey, who also serves on the MPO board.

At one time, the expectation was for the trail route to come through Pasco, but since then, a second northern option was added, Starkey said.

The proposed northern route begins in western Hernando County, and then moves southeast to Sumter along former railroad right-of-way. It would link the towns of Webster and Center Hill, and connect with the Withlacoochee State Trail.

At the Sept. 2 meeting of the MPO’s Citizens Advisory Committee, James Edwards, transportation manager for the Pasco MPO, said, “Let’s move to the next stage. How do we have an impact on the decision?”

The state roads department has no announced public meetings in Pasco on the trail routes and study.

The kick-off meeting for the 18-month feasibility study was on May 7 in the town of Webster. The study is slated to conclude in June 2016.

According to FDOT records of the meeting, nearly 125 people attended, but fewer than 3 percent were from Pasco.

While there was support for the route into Pasco, FDOT records show some hunters objected to the southern route, which they said would disrupt or halt hunting season in the area.

“This (Sept. 10 MPO meeting) is effectively going to wind up being our public meeting,” Edwards said. “The study is still ongoing. Information is coming forward on both these alignments.”

Starkey has sent a letter in support of Pasco’s selection, and has spoken with FDOT officials.

If the route through Pasco isn’t selected, the commissioner said she would continue to pursue completion of a trail that would go through Dade City.

The northeastern area of the county, which is noted for its hilly landscapes, is a popular bicycle destination for many bicycle clubs, said Allen Howell, a bicycle and pedestrian planner with the MPO.

“Pasco County and its citizens are making a big effort to become the bicycle capital of the state,” Starkey said. “It’s important for economic prosperity.”

Published September 9, 2015

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