By Kyle LoJacono
Runners, bikers and nature lovers will soon have more trail to experience the outdoors.
Richard Sanders, project manager for Hillsborough County’s public works department, said the often-delayed project to extend the Upper Tampa Trail will begin late this year or early in 2013.
The Florida Department of Transportation and Southwest Florida Water Management District have agreed to contribute a total of $2 million to ensure the completion of the $4 million job.
The project, which was first proposed in 2002 and will add 4.35 miles of 12-foot-wide trail, appears to be a certainty, as does a large 4-mile wide gap.
The extension will begin where the Suncoast Trail ends at the intersection of W. Lutz-Lake Fern Road and the Suncoast Parkway in Lutz and end where Gunn Highway and Van Dyke Road meet. The southern portion begins at Memorial Highway in Tampa and ends at Peterson Road Park in Citrus Park.
Sanders said the county hasn’t been able to buy the terrain from four landowners needed to connect the two trails, which would create 59 miles of continuous pathways north to Citrus County.
Linda McLane, who frequently runs Suncoast Trail in Lutz, said more track would be welcome, even if the gap remains.
“A lot of the runners talk about how they’d like more trail to run on,” McLane said. “It gives more people the chance to be outside and see more of the nature in their backyard.”
McLane added the trail can get crowded on nice weekend mornings, so additional pathway would provide more space.
The new trail will go along the west side of Brooker Creek Headwaters Nature Preserve in Odessa. Sanders said that is to allow more people see the park. He added cyclists will have to leave bikes at available stands in order to go through the preserve.
The extension project, which will take about 13 months, includes adding a 53-space parking lot, bathrooms and picnic shelters on Lutz-Lake Fern just west of the Suncoast Parkway, along with water stations every 2 miles.
County records estimate about 100,000 people use the Upper Tampa Trail each year.