Bicyclists enjoy the Pinellas Trail and its unique artwork that runs through Largo.
Photo courtesy of SCOTT DANIELS
Scott Daniels, vice president of Pinellas Trails Inc., celebrates his birthday Aug. 24 picking up trash. Daniels and his wife Marcy were the first to volunteer for Keep Pinellas Beautiful Adopt-a-Mile trail program.
Map courtesy of MPO
The 54-mile Pinellas Trail is part of a bigger trail system that loops around the county, providing nearly 75 miles of safe travel for pedestrians, bicyclists and skaters.
It’s not the first time that personal tragedy resulted in something good. The story of the Pinellas Trail certainly brings that home.
Thirty years ago, former Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Bert Valery Jr. lost his 17-year-old son when a car hit him on the Belleair Beach Causeway while he was riding his bicycle home from his part-time job. Valery then took it upon himself to do what he could to make a safe place for bicyclists and pedestrians to travel throughout Pinellas County.
Twenty-three years ago in December, Valery’s mission became a reality. The first five-mile stretch of Pinellas Trail opened Dec. 1, 1990.
Today, Pinellas Trail connects to Progress Energy Trail and North Bay Trail to create a nearly 75-mile linear park and multi-modal transportation facility used by more than 90,000 residents and guests each month.
And that calls for a celebration, according to Clearwater resident Scott Daniels, Pinellas Trail Inc. vice president. Plans are underway to mark the trails 25th anniversary in December 2015.
Pinellas Trails Inc., a volunteer group, is two years older than the trail itself. The organization, whose mission is to support, enhance and protect the trail, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Valery currently serves as the group’s president.
“The Pinellas Trail is both a recreational, linear park and transportation corridor that benefits our citizens and our tourists,” Daniels said. “The trail is accessible to everyone who can get out of their cars and really enjoy our native, Florida landscaping when they walk, bike, skate or just sit and watch the activity on the trail itself.”
According to Daniels, the idea for the Pinellas Trail got its start due to series of events and the vision and support by several key people.
Not long after his son’s death, Valery helped form the Metropolitan Planning Organizations Bicycle Advisory Committee, which teamed up with the Pedestrian Safety Committee to work on improving safety for people riding bikes, walking and jogging.
About that same time, the county was trying to figure out what to do with a 34-mile corridor of abandoned CSX railroad right-of-way purchased by the Florida Department of Transportation. In 1984, Valery’s Bicycle Advisory Committee proposed using the old railroad track right-of-way as a bike route. In 1988, Pinellas Trails Inc. formed and began making history.
The committee came up with the idea of expanding the trail to a linear park concept, Daniels said. The next step was seeking public support, which he said came easy. He said since the beginning, the plan had been to link the trail with conservation areas – municipal and county parklands.
In 1989, Pinellas County Commissioners approved the Pinellas Trail project and allocated $1.5 million to build a 15-mile segment. Voters approved a referendum of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax, providing funding to complete 35 miles of trail.
In 1990, the county built two trail preview sites: one near Seminole City Park and a second by Curlew Road and U.S. Alt. 19 in Dunedin. On Dec. 1, workers completed the first five miles from Taylor Park to Seminole City Park. In 1991, the first trail overpass opened over Ulmerton Road in Largo.
In 1992, the trail from Taylor Park to Ozona opened and the West Bay Drive overpass in Largo was completed. In 1993, the trail was extended from Seminole City Park to St. Petersburg, and the overpass at Orange Street and Alt. U.S. 19 in Dunedin opened.
And the trail kept growing. In 1994, the St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs sections opened, and in 1996, the Park Boulevard overpass in Seminole was finished. In 1997, Seminole Boulevard and 113th Street overpasses opened, as well as a section of trail going through downtown Clearwater.
The year 2000 marked the opening of the Cross Bayou Bridge in Seminole. That same year, Pinellas County Commissioners announced the trail would be called the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail in honor of the retiring county administrator who served from 1979 until 2000.
In 2001, the Park Street overpass near Tyrone Boulevard opened and the next year, an overpass on Central Avenue, First Avenue South and Pasadena Avenue in St. Petersburg was completed.
In 2004, Elfers Spur over the Anclote River opened to connect the North Anclote River Nature Park in Tarpon Springs, and the 38th Avenue overpass opened in St. Petersburg. In 2005, officials purchased an abandoned section of railroad to extend the trail into downtown St. Petersburg.
The trail continued to grow when the Jasmine section from U.S. 19 to Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs opened in 2006, followed by the Rio Vista connection opening in northeast St. Petersburg in 2007.
Construction on the trail in downtown St. Petersburg also began in 2007, and officials held a groundbreaking for the first segment of the Progress Energy Trail to connect Bright House Field to Belleair Road in Clearwater.
In 2008, a three-mile extension of the Pinellas Trail opened along the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg and the first segment of the Progress Energy Trail was finished. The next year, the Enterprise overpass opened on the Progress Energy Trail.
In 2010, as supporters celebrated the trail’s 20th anniversary, a groundbreaking ceremony marked the beginning of the northeast extension on Keystone Road. Clearwater began construction of the East Avenue bicycle boulevard through its downtown. The 34th Street overpass opened. In 2011, the East Avenue section through downtown Clearwater was finished. The trail was 37 miles long.
Fast forward to 2013 and two events that Daniels said is exciting for those who have been working on the trail for the past 23 years: the completion of the Pinellas Trail segment on Keystone Road from U.S. 19 to East Lake Road, and the North Bay Trail in northeast St. Petersburg. The trail system now stretches 54 miles.
“We will have 75 miles when the entire loop project is completed,” Daniels said.
The Pinellas Trail is known throughout Florida and across the United States as one of the most famous linear parks among the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy projects. Pinellas Trail Inc. is proud of the designation as a National Recreation Trail by the United States Department of Interior, the National Park Service in 2003. In 2008, the trail was formally inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
“The citizens of Pinellas County have a special sense of pride when they use the Pinellas Trail,” he said. “Next to our world famous, Gulf of Mexico beaches, our community supports the trail and anxiously awaits each new section of the Pinellas Trail Loop that will be available to our residents on the eastern side of Pinellas County.”
Daniels praised the cooperation by municipal and county governments and the partnership between those governments and the private sector that he said has been nothing but positive.
He attributes that cooperation and partnership as the impetus behind the vision and drive to take what was once an abandoned railroad track and turn it into something now enjoyed by 90,000 pedestrians, bicyclists and skaters.
Other benefits include increased value for properties located near the trail. Businesses enjoy a boost in sales, and some have even paid to build an access to their stores. The trail has been a big boon to tourism.
Pinellas County is responsible for maintenance of the trail. Construction is paid for by Penny for Pinellas money from the county and municipalities. Over the years, Pinellas Trail Inc. has provided benches, bike racks and water fountains. Daniels said other organizations have joined in, making donations to improve the trail’s amenities.
“We (Pinellas Trail Inc.) are the voice and ambassadors in the private/public partnership with Pinellas County,” Daniels said.
Keep Pinellas Beautiful sponsors an Adopt-a-mile program that coordinates a group of volunteers that work to keep the trail safe and clean. Daniels and his wife, Marcy, were the first to adopt a mile when the program began in January. Their mile, which runs from Beltrees Street through downtown Dunedin to Jackson Street is one of the most used sections of the trail, he said. For information on the program, call 533-0402.
Trail safety has always been of paramount importance, Daniels said. In 2010, emergency response decals were installed that enable emergency response vehicles to pinpoint the exact location of an incident. The bright yellow decals are adhered directly on the trail surface about 200-feet apart. Each has a unique location number and provides contact numbers to report maintenance problems.
The trail is open from sunrise to sunset. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, assisted by members of the Pinellas Trail Auxiliary, is responsible for its safety. Safety rules include:
• Pedestrians and handicapped have the right of way, wheelchairs should use the pedestrian lanes and electric handicap wheelchairs are always permitted.
• Bicyclists are required to obey all traffic controls and signals.
• Bicyclists are not permitted to wear headphones at any time
• Bicyclists under age 16 must wear a helmet.
• Electric bicycles are prohibited.
• Bicyclists and skaters should obey the posted speed limits. No racing, race training or pace lines. Skaters should use the bicycle lanes, and both skaters and cyclists should give an audible warning when passing.
• Motorized vehicles (except electric handicap wheelchairs, maintenance, law enforcement and emergency vehicles) are prohibited.
• Horses are prohibited.
• Pets must be kept on a 6-foot leash and under control.
Pinellas Trails Inc. supports the volunteer Auxiliary Ranger program. Daniels said more volunteers are welcome. The Auxiliary Rangers patrol the trail and county parks by bike and on foot and provide information to residents and visitors. They also help with light maintenance and special events. Auxiliary Rangers must complete a training course and be certified. They are also required to commit to 100 hours of service a year. For more information, call 464-8477 or visit www.pinellascounty.org/volserv.
Daniels said a planning committee would begin meeting in 2014 to discuss the next big milestone. “We are planning a very special Silver Anniversary (25 years) celebration for December 2015,” Daniels said. “It will be a countywide event with participation by county, municipal, business and citizen organizations.”
Anyone who wants to get involved can call Daniels at 480-3515.