The Orange Belt Railroad arrived in Tarpon Springs on January 13, 1888. By May the railroad stretched into St. Petersburg along the west end of Pinellas. The railway carried oranges and veterans and went by a myriad of names, including the Plant System Railroad and the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad.
92 years and one day after the railroad reached St. Petersburg, a lit cigarette ignited the creosote on a trestle in Bay Pines, taking out a bridge on the railway. The railroad closed the section forever.
In time, Pinellas County acquired sections of the old railroad. Under the guidance of county administrator Fred Marquis, Pinellas county converted the railway into the Pinellas Trail. The first section of the trail opened in 1990, and today the renmaed “Fred Marquis” Pinellas Trail stretches the length of the county.
The trail is a “linear” park and part of a country-wide “rails to trails” effort that replaced abandoned railways with trails. These parks allow cyclists, walkers, runners, and skaters a pastoral respite.
Biking the entire length of the trail may seem daunting at first, but any reasonably fit person can do it. Gulfport has a spur that joins the trail by Boca Ciega High School, and beach residents can pedal to the Pasadena overpass and catch the trail there. There’s plenty to see and no reason to rush.
After a series of bridges, riding over the long stretch of water by Bay Pines comes as a welcome break. Dunedin, a great stopping point for lunch, has a quaint downtown with a cozy collections of shops, cafes, and a brewery. Pedal on to Ozona and the quiet and trees make you feel like you’re the only one in the world (or, at least, on the trail). Palm Harbor has Wall Springs Park and the back side of the Suncoast Primary Sanctuary (formerly Noell’s Chimp Farm).
By the time you cross into Tarpon Springs (so noted by the railroad-inspired artwork signalling each city as you pass through), you’re ready for a break-- enjoy the downtown, head to the sponge docks, or just take a break on a bench before catching a bus home or turning around and doing it all in reverse.
At the trail’s end, PSTA buses pick up regularly and allow both bikes and small, contained pets, so put your bike on the front of the bus and carry a collapsible softside pet carrier for the air conditioned ride home.
Expect the ride to take you at least four hours. Bring a water bottle, snacks, a hat and sunscreen.
Pinellas County Parks has bicycle rangers, but like most of the county’s popular parks, the Trail gets help from a citizen’s group. Pinellas Trails, Inc., pays for the benches, trash cans, mile markers, maps, bike racks, and a plethora of other amenities along the 34-mile (soon to be 47) stretch of trail.
Open from 7 until sunset.
The trail runs north to south across Pinellas County, from south St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs with spurs and parks along the way, including Trail Head Park at the southern end and Wall Springs at the north end.
parts: Even lifelong residents enjoy new vistas as they pedal through corners of the county they never get to see otherwise, like the back side of a primate sanctuary or the underside of US Highway 19.
Most places along the trail welcome dogs, so if you’re so inclined, put your pup in your bike basket.
part: The trail has nine overpasses, or bridges, that allow riders to avoid potentially unsafe intersections. After climbing the fourth one, you’ll understand why this is the worst part.
For more information, visit PinellasTrails.org and PinellasCounty.org/parks.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@TheGabber.com.