Closing the gap on the Pinellas Trail

Allyson Jackovics, News Editor

New residents of the East Lake area were likely excited to discover that a 34 mile, county-wide, nationally ranked paved biking/walking trail wound right in front of the entrance to their neighborhood. After venturing south along the trail, they come to John Chestnut Park, but across the entrance, the iconic red and white poles disappear and the sidewalk gets smaller. Traveling back north, you come to Keystone Road, and the trail ends in a large turnabout. Disappointed, you realize this segment doesn’t even connect with the main part of the trail.

            However, in 2013, the trail segments will be connected into one 45-mile stretch of unbroken asphalt.  Currently, there is a gap in the trail between the corner of East Lake and Keystone Road and a section of trail east of U.S. 19. Closing the gap is estimated to take about 33 months.

            This county trail stretches from northern Pinellas in Tarpon Springs all the way south to St. Petersburg, curving around residential and urban areas as well as through undeveloped areas with resident wildlife. Several overpasses allow safe crossing over congested streets.

            Senior Natalie Reeser, who frequents the trail, was excited to hear about the gap closing.

            “I live on Keystone Road, so I’m looking forward to it, because it will allow me to access it easier,” said Natalie.           

            Along with the newly connected trail, Keystone Road will be converted into a four lane road with a large center median, which will ease traffic congestion on Keystone and Eastlake during rush hour. The entire project will cost about $32 million. 

            The trail’s history began in 1983, when a man whose son was killed riding his bike, along with a Pinellas County Committee, pushed to create a safe place to ride bikes. This issue linked with another- a 34 mile abandoned CSX railroad corridor. It was decided that the trail should run along this long path that cut through Pinellas.

            The first 5 mile stretch was finished in 1990, and the trail is still a work in progress. The county eventually plans to make the trail a 75 mile loop that can be accessed start to finish without the use of vehicles. Several segments, including the East Lake Road segment, required connection by vehicle. Several parking plazas dot the trail for easy access.

            The trail is actively kept up. Law enforcement and Pinellas County park rangers patrol the trail, and plenty of amenities line the trail. Bike racks, rest stops, mile markers, and telephones are readily available, along with many bicycle shops, which rent out, repair and maintain bicycles on the spot. Plenty of restaurants cater to trail users along the way, as well as museums and other attractions.

            An average 90,000 people use the trail each month, biking, rollerblading, or simply walking.

Photo caption- Construction is underway to expand Keystone Road and close a gap in the Pinellas Trail