Back in 1984, the volunteer members of Pinellas County’s Bicycle Advisory Board proposed the idea of transforming miles of old railroad right-of-way the Florida Department of Transportation had purchased the year prior into a recreational trail and linear park for the rapidly developing county.
Now, after more than three decades of construction, a countywide trail loop system built around the award-winning Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail is nearly complete.
The 6.7-mile section of the Pinellas Duke Energy Trail between Enterprise Road in Clearwater and John Chestnut Sr. Park in Palm Harbor is now open, one of the last pieces in a trail system built section-by-section over the last 32 years, starting in 1990 with the first stretch of the Pinellas Trail between Seminole and Largo.
With the Clearwater-Palm Harbor leg of the Duke Energy Trail now complete, nearly 65 miles of the planned 75 miles of the Pinellas Trail Loop, the oval-shaped trail network around Pinellas County, is in place.
Current and former county and Clearwater officials, the Friends of the Pinellas Trail and dozens of members of the public marked the completion of the “north gap” of the trail loop system with an August 5th ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Countryside Recreation Center, along a new stretch of the trail. Marquis, the former longtime Pinellas County Administrator for whom the Pinellas Trail is named, was one of the former local officials who attended to mark the moment.
“The trail will provide a bicycle and pedestrian network that is unprecedented in Florida,” Pinellas County Commission Chairman Charlie Justice says in remarks at the event. “It enhances the current economic, health and safety benefits provided by the loop and expands Pinellas County’s multi-modal transportation network in a robust and sustainable manner…This regional network of trails will circle the county, linking parks, coastal areas, commercial centers and neighborhoods. Today is a major milestone in the life of the Pinellas County Trail.”
The new $10.7 million section of the trail is funded by the Penny for Pinellas sales tax and FDOT grants.
In his remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard says the moment has “been a long time in coming,” but through decades of piecemeal construction, current and former local officials, community groups and the public stayed focused on seeing through the ambitious vision for the trail system
“People stuck to it,” Hibbard says.
He says that people throw around the term “world-class” too often, but Pinellas County’s trail system fits the description. The trail network draws approximately two million users a year. Over the years, its honors and awards include induction into the National Rails to Trails Hall of Fame and recognition twice with the Best Trail of Florida award from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Office of Greenways and Trails.
In his comments, Hibbard also notes that the countywide trail loop “works perfectly” with the sustainability objectives of Clearwater’s Greenprint 2.0 plan.
“It allows people the alternative to walk, to bike to get around the entire county,” he says. “To bring the eastern side of Clearwater and all of Pinellas County into the trail system so they can go from here to Clearwater Beach, to the Courtney Campbell Causeway and all the way down to St. Petersburg is just a tremendous addition to the quality of life in the entire county.”
Duke Energy Government and Community Relations Manager Jeff Baker notes that recreational trails run along two of the power company’s three north-south transmission line corridors in Pinellas.
“We live in a densely populated county and anytime you can find space to allow for recreation, it’s always a good thing,” Baker says.
In his remarks to the gathered crowd, Scott Daniels, president of the community group Friends of the Pinellas Trail, looks back over the decades at what has led up to this day. He recalls how the Friends organization formed in 1988 as a grassroots citizen group on a mission to build public support for the construction of a recreational trail and linear park. Daniels says he did not expect to still be adding “links to the chain” at this point in time. While the process has taken longer than expected, Daniels notes that the end result is a trail system that will not only loop Pinellas County but serve as the western terminus of a cross-state trail.
A description on the Pinellas County government describes the full loop system in detail.
“When complete, the Loop will be a continuous multi-use pathway stretching from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg, with connections to Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor, Largo, Seminole, South Pasadena and Gulfport,” the description says. “The Loop will also provide regional connections to Hillsborough and Pasco County trail networks and link to the western end of the Florida Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail, a 250-mile multi-use trail that will cross the width of Florida.”
Next year, work starts on the last significant piece, with the start of construction on a trail bridge over the Lake Tarpon outfall canal to close a gap in the East Lake area.
For more information go to Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail and Friends of the Pinellas Trail.