TRINITY — Piece by piece, the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail is coming into focus.
The gulf-to-ocean trail is really more of a long-term concept since it was conceived. Upon completion, it will meander some 250 miles from St. Petersburg to Titusville. Portions of the Coast-to-Coast Trail already exist, and the challenge is putting the linear puzzle together by constructing long stretches and getting everything connected.
A complete, contiguous trail is years from completion, but Pasco County just wrapped up its portion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 13. The event commemorated the opening of the Starkey Gap Trail, which was a two-phased undertaking in partnership with Pinellas County, the Florida Department of Transportation and others. The first phase was completed by the neighbors to the south, bringing the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail to the Pasco border. The newly completed second phase connected the 2.4-mile gap between the Pinellas Trail and the Starkey Boulevard Trail, which is a portion of the Suncoast Trail.
Though only 2.4 miles, the completion of the Starkey Gap Trail represents the final piece of a connected Gulf Coast trail system that stretches about 70 total miles, north to south.
“Now cyclists can ride from Pinellas County into Pasco and beyond,” Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said in a video of the ribbon-cutting event posted by the county. “So we’re connecting, say, the city of St. Petersburg to Brooksville.”
Starkey, who attended this month’s ribbon cutting, is a longtime advocate of expanding Pasco’s own network of trails, hiking paths and parks. She also helped with the official opening of the Coastal Anclote Trail in West Pasco two weeks prior.
“She is such an advocate for trails and especially safety for trails,” said David Gwynn, FDOT District 7 secretary. “She calls me all the time in looking for ways to make the trails safer, so we’re really fortunate to have someone like her to work with.”
FDOT paid for the cost of constructing the Starkey Gap Trail, which crosses State Road 54 and heads north along Starkey Boulevard. Pasco County will pay for the management of the trail — mowing, signage, security, etc.
“The funding comes from a number of sources and we have a lot of partners — the counties, the (Department of Environmental Protection), others,” Gwynn said. “It really is a great effort among a lot of folks.”
This month’s grand opening included dozens of individuals representing entities both inside and outside Pasco County. A number of cyclists came ready to traverse the gap, as well.
“Citizens of Pinellas County are very excited that Pasco County will be joining us in the regional aspect of rails to trails and trails for the citizens, and part of the Coast-to-Coast Trail across the state of Florida,” said Scott Daniels, president of the Friends of the Pinellas Trail.
“As each one of these gaps closes, Florida’s ranking the world of bicycle tourism is just going to climb and climb and climb,” said Dale Allen, president of the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, a Tallahassee-based advocacy group.
Also attending the Starkey Gap Trail ribbon cutting was a former president of the Florida Senate, Andy Gardiner. The former Orlando-based politician is an honorary board member of the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation and was in office as the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail was in its embryotic stages.
“Back in 2014, several of us started looking at the map of Florida and you saw all these different bike trails, but they’re weren’t connected, which really kind of started the vision of a coast-to-coast bike trail paid for in partnership with the local counties and also the state of Florida,” Gardiner said. “It’s exciting to see it all coming together to where you’ll be your bike from St. Petersburg all the way over to Titusville, Florida.”
As stated by Allen, president of the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, this completed trail and system’s overall growth will have benefits beyond recreation and exercise, Starkey said.
“It’s an amazing trail and an amazing accomplishment,” Starkey said. “It’s great for tourism, it’s great for exercise and it’s great for economic development to have such a long, interesting trail available for people.
“I think people will come from all around the world to ride this trail.”