Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp wants to get residents moving when it comes to supporting and building a network of trails and greenways.
The first-time county commissioner recently invited trail experts to give residents an overview of current and future projects in Hillsborough and the Tampa Bay region.
Regional trails coursing through Pasco County include the Coast to Coast Trail tying together east and west coasts; and, the Suncoast Trail, with trail heads in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties
Nearly 75 people attended the April 4 meeting at the Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library in Tampa. Speakers included Dale Allen, executive director of the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation; Wade Reynolds of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization; and Anthony Matonti of Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, or TBARTA.
“Trails are just exploding,” said Kemp.
But, she came away disappointed when she attended a regional meeting on trials in Venice in February. At least seven counties made presentations.
“Pasco had a great demonstration, good programs,” Kemp said.
Hillsborough didn’t have as much going on, but that wasn’t always the case, she said. “It seemed like something happened in Hillsborough because they went dormant.”
Kemp hopes that the April 4 meeting will spur efforts to follow through on trail projects in Hillsborough and regionally. An annual summit on trail development in Hillsborough also would keep momentum going, she said.
On April 5, Hillsborough County commissioners asked the county’s staff to prioritize a list of hiking and bicycling trails for future projects, and to make a biannual report on progress.
All across Florida, a trail system is taking shape.
It’s one that largely began with local projects, but now is emerging as a statewide network, Allen said.
The Coast to Coast trail, for instance, includes about 14 individual trails built by local governments. When the trail opens in 2020, it will connect Volusia County in the east with Pinellas County in the west. A portion of the 250-mile trail will cut through Pasco.
People can ride bicycles from the Kennedy Space Center to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Allen said.
“The economic impact of this is tremendous,” he said.
Florida’s trail system benefits from a number of factors, including year-round warm weather. But, Allen said the state has other assets as well, including its state parks.
Florida is the only state in the nation to win the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence three times for the maintenance of its parks.
The state also has thousands of miles of abandoned rights-of-way along railroad lines. Many trail systems around the country are being built on those old routes, including the Coeur d’Alene Trail in Idaho along 71 miles of the Union Pacific rail line, and the High Line in New York City on an abandoned, elevated rail road trestle.
Allen said the High Line is the second biggest tourist attraction in New York City.
In Pasco, a trail is proposed to follow the Orange Belt rail line. Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey often mentions the trail as an economic boon to Land O’ Lakes.
Dade City often is cited as a future hub for bicyclists traveling the trail network.
The Coast to Coast trail could benefit Dade City’s efforts, said Allen, in response to a question posed after his presentation. But, he added, “They’ve got to do it right. Putting lanes for bicycles along roadways won’t do it.”
The trails must be safe, scenic and lead to destinations people want to visit, Allen said.
In Florida, safety is a critical issue. The state consistently over the years ranks at or near the worst among states in annual pedestrian and bicycling fatalities.
Data shows that nine out of 10 Floridians own bicycles. But, Allen said one out of 10 owners don’t ride them. “The roads are too dangerous,” he said. “To go to best from worst, we have a lot of work to do.”
Published April 26, 2017