Community meetings have begun regarding the proposed Orange Belt Trail, and even though the process is very early, officials are concerned that misinformation already is circulating concerning the plans.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) planner Tina Russo raised the topic during the MPO’s Jan. 12 meeting.
“We understand there’s some angst by some people who live out in the Dade City area because some of the people have bought the rail line corridor — we actually were auctioning it off — and now it’s their house or their driveway, and they think we’re going to come in with condemnation powers and bulldoze it and follow that trail literally,” Starkey said.
“That is not the intent, at all. I just want to make that clear.”
Starkey noted that she and Russo had met with the vice mayor of San Antonio and a presentation was planned for its town council, and presentations also were planned for the city councils in Zephyrhills and Dade City, too.
“So, we think with more information, we can allay everyone’s fears and actually show the benefits of having a trail come through,” Starkey said.
Russo said the county’s two public meetings on the Orange Belt Trail were well-attended and focused primarily on the portions of the trail that will be built in Central Pasco and East Pasco.
The county has been talking for years about building a recreation trail that mostly will follow the former Orange Belt Trail rail line, from Trinity to Trilby.
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 numerous discussions at Pasco County Commission meetings.
Those planning efforts are ramping up, and the county began soliciting community feedback in the early part of the process.
In a previous interview, Sam Beneck, a project manager for Pasco County, told The Laker/Lutz News that the idea is to hear from people about what they’d like to see the trail do and what kind of character they’d like it have.
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. The map for the project shows an approximate path, but the alignment is not locked in.
Timing for the project will depend upon available funding, through grants and other sources.
Russo said she expects a presentation on the Orange Belt Trail project to come before the MPO board, likely in April or May.
At that point, the planners will have more information from all of the comments that have come in and are coming in, Russo said.
The MPO planner noted there have been some “very good public comment already, on this project.”
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley, whose district includes East Pasco, interjected: “It’s not all positive, though.”
Starkey responded: “That’s because they don’t understand it.”
Oakley added: “I had one citizen that told me they couldn’t believe that I was for that trail. But yet, I am for that trail — not that it goes through their house, you know.”
Starkey noted the communities along the trail will benefit.
“What trails can do economically, for those little towns —and those are the gems on the trail — it’s huge,” she said.
Zephyrhills City Councilman Lance Smith said he’s glad there are planned presentations in Dade City and Zephyrhills.
“It helps get that information out there. You’re still going to have a level of disinformation, but at least we would know that the facts were out there.”
Russo also noted: “Once we start building these pieces that we have the funding already, it’s going to change that perception, as well. It’s a regional trail, it connects Pinellas to Titusville, basically. It’s huge.”
Dade City Commissioner Scott Black noted: “It’s got so much potential. It’s just a wonderful opportunity. It’s a great thing.”
Starkey concurred: “It’s received statewide attention when we announced it. Calls (came in) from all over.”
Those interested in learning more can visit OrangeBeltTrail.com.
Published January 25, 2023