One of the best ways to experience the lovely Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area in Florida is by taking the Pinellas Trail. This urban path for pedestrians and cyclists crisscrosses the community and was partly inspired by tragedy. More than 30 years down the line, it motivates countless people to stay fit and enjoy the scenic outdoors.
Where exactly is the Pinellas Trail, and what’s it all about? Let’s find out!
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What Is the Pinellas Trail?
The Pinellas Trail is a paved path that runs more than 50 miles in Pinellas County in west-central Florida. Built on a former railroad route, it’s west of Tampa Bay and east of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s primarily flat and 15 feet wide in most places, with a surface of either asphalt or concrete.
According to a group called Friends of the Pinellas Trail, this multi-use trail is extremely popular, with 1.5 million users a year. Those users include walkers, runners, cyclists, commuters, and parents taking their kids out for a stroll.
This metro area has a population of more than 3 million, and it’s also a popular tourist destination. This makes it a busy place. For that reason, the trail has 10 specially built overpasses and three underpasses so trail-goers can safely avoid motor vehicle traffic.
The trail, which opened in 1990, keeps expanding. According to the Friends organization, it stretches for 54 miles as of 2020 and ultimately will extend 75 miles. Eventually, it’ll become part of a 250-mile Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail linking one side of Florida with the other.
How the Pinellas Trail Got Started
The official name of this incredible greenspace corridor is the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail. It’s named for a former Pinellas County administrator devoted to seeing the project come to life.
A big part of the inspiration was the tragic death of a local teenager named Bert Valery Jr. He died in 1983 when a car hit him on his bike. As a result, the community lobbied for a safe place where they could bike, walk, jog, and skate.
At the same time, the county had 34 miles of railway that was no longer in use. Along with Marquis, Bert’s parents were among the people who worked hard to make the project happen. After years of planning, land acquisition, and development, the Pinellas Trail opened in 1990.
Getting Onto the Pinellas Trail
The Pinellas Trail runs through a series of cities and towns and has some connecting trails. There are many different places you can hit the trail, in urban settings, and from various parks.
A GIS map shows the official trailheads, including Azalea Park, Progress Energy Park, Weaver Park, and Seminole City Park. The Main Street parking lot in downtown Dunedin is a popular starting point, too. It’s a newer section on the northern end of the trail.
A Multipurpose Route
Technically, the Pinellas Trail is called a “shared-use path.” The trains don’t run there anymore, nor do any other motorized vehicles other than electric bikes. According to Florida law, e-bikes are classified as bicycles. Besides cyclists, the steady traffic flow includes walkers, runners, and in-line skaters.
Scenery Along the Pinellas Trail
The trail connects downtown St. Petersburg with a string of other communities, including Bellair, Clearwater, Dunedin, Seminole, and Tarpon Springs. Many use the access point in the Dunedin parking lot because it’s near a particularly scenic stretch.
It runs close to the quaint downtown area as well as more remote, undeveloped spaces. Other trail highlights include oak-shaded groves along beaches and waterfronts, including Tarpon Springs’ famed sponge docks.
The terrain and landscapes differ, as you would expect of any trail that covers more than 50 miles. According to a Florida Rambler article by Bonnie Gross, the trail is “a mixed bag” but with many memorable features.
“We found pretty views, parks to discover, historic buildings, and cute downtowns,” Gross wrote. “We also found plenty of suburban backyards, the back-sides of businesses, boring views of commercial roadways, and shadelessness.”
But on a much more positive note, she wrote, “The Pinellas Trail is a treasure, and anyone lucky enough to live near it has access to what is probably the best urban bike trail in Florida.”
Pro Tip: After enjoying the scenery of the Pinellas Trail, check out these 6 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Florida You Should Visit.
Pinellas Trail Amenities
Obviously, the Pinellas Trail isn’t some sterile multi-use path that only gets you from Point A to Point B. There are incredibly scenic sections and some comforts along the way. These include restrooms and water fountains, covered tables, benches, bike racks, and trash receptacles.
Safety is an important consideration, too. Law enforcement officers from several different agencies regularly patrol it. There are also nearly 700 markers on the pavement that help them pinpoint your location in case of an emergency.
Regular users of the trail know to keep things moving and keep to the right. If you want to pass someone else, pass on the left and warn them first. These are not just common courtesy but part of the Pinellas Trail’s official rules. In addition, users should maintain a safe speed, keep a safe distance from others, and not take up over half the trail.
You’ll come across many places where the trail crosses heavily trafficked intersections. In those cases, trail users have to obey traffic signals.
You can visit the park between 7 a.m. and sunset each day. Cyclists under the age of 16 must wear a helmet. You can bring your dogs as long as they remain on a leash no longer than 6 ft. Sorry, no horses.
Pro Tip: If you’re bringing your dog along with you on your hike on the Pinellas Trail, try out one of these 7 Best Dog Hiking Backpacks for Saddle Bag Packing Their Gear.
Safely Explore Florida’s Western Gulf Coast on the Pinellas Trail
As a repurposed railroad project, Florida’s Pinella Trail might be one of the best. It has certainly given people a safe place to walk, run, and bike.
In many ways, it has become a fun and lively center of the community and a point of pride. Along with the gorgeous beaches and coastal marshes, it’s one of the first places residents show off to their guests. The always crowded Pinellas Trail is a living, breathing model for other communities wanting to develop a successful Rails-to-Trails project.
Would you hike on the Pinella Trail? Tell us in the comments!
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