Pasco County has been talking for years about building a recreation trail that will mostly follow the former Orange Belt Trail rail line, from Trinity to Trilby.
But now planning efforts are ramping up and two open-house style public meetings have been set to give the community a chance to have a voice in the project.
“We’d really like to hear from people at these meetings — what they’d like to see the trail do, what kind of character they’d like it to have,” said Sam Beneck, a project manager for Pasco County.
The trail will link communities such as Trinity, Odessa, Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Dade City, and will provide both recreational and economic opportunities along the way, based on discussions at Pasco County Commission meetings.
The trail is expected to be a 12- to 14-foot-wide paved multi-use trail, but also could incorporate sections intended for equestrian use.
By holding community meetings now, planners hope to engage the public while drawing up the plans and to continue that involvement throughout the process, Beneck said.
The goal is to encourage public engagement early on and to keep communication lines open throughout the process, the project manager added.
He described the trail as “a linear park, by itself,” but noted that such trails typically connect to other trails and other recreational assets along the way.
A map has been drawn to show the approximate path, but the alignment is not locked in, Beneck said. The same goes for the time frame and budget, which will vary based on the final plans that are approved — with the timing partially tied to whether the county can secure additional funding through grants or other sources, he said.
“It’s been in concept for a long time, but we’ve only in the last few months started that real study to actually to figure out the where and the what and the how,” Beneck said.
Getting public input now will help planners incorporate desired features and take issues into account, while they’re drawing up proposed plans.
“We don’t want to draw any conclusions, we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves with anything, so everything right now is subject to change, based on the needs and the expectations and the desires of the public and the commission,” Beneck said.
Part of the planning will be to determine logical phases for construction.
“We are going to be breaking the project down, into pieces that can be built, that would have logical termini, logical starts and ends. We definitely don’t want to have a segment of trail that is built that kind of drops people in an unsafe area to be cycling or jogging, or whatever,” he said.
The idea is to ensure “that each piece that we conceptualize and build makes sense by itself and can provide that value to the community, as the pieces around it come online,” he said.
The project manager also said he intends to avoid the mentality that the trail has to be done one segment at a time, extending in the same direction.
“It really will be something that we want to be thoughtful about, and not just start at the west side of the county and work our way to the east, or anything like that,” he said.
Rather, it could be that portions of the trail will be done on the east side, the west side and the middle and then would be tied together, he added.
“There’s really opportunities all over the place,” Beneck said.
“How we start to connect those opportunities together is actually its own phase in the study that we’ve assigned to the study team, the consultant team — identifying what the segments should be and what order we should be attacking them in,” he said.
There will be trailheads, which will be especially important in areas where there are disconnected segments, Beneck said.
“It will be important to have places to park, in order to access the system. Ultimately, we do want people to be able to access the system from their homes. And, those parking lots will be, maybe, less critical. But we certainly understand that while it’s a disconnected system, we’ll need to have parking for folks and we also want to have amenities for people. The water and the bathroom and even just places to stop and have a sandwich,” Beneck said.
Community meetings on Orange Belt Trail
Two community open-house style meetings are scheduled to begin sharing information about Pasco County’s proposed Orange Belt Trail. Both meetings will have the same content.
Here are the meeting times and places:
- Dec. 6 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at Hampton Inn, 11780 State Road 54, in Odessa
- Dec. 7 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Dade City Garden Club, 13630 Fifth St., in Dade City.
There will be a brief, formal presentation each evening at 6 p.m., and county staff will be available to answer questions. Those interested in finding out more can visit OrangeBeltTrail.com. To learn more about the county’s engineering services, visit MyPas.co/3tzL8N3.
Published November 30, 2022