Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Tampa’s Cycling Trails—Ribbons of Sanity Through a Sea of Chaos

Bert Gildart: Bicycling is turning out to be my outlet from work here in Tampa, Florida, where I am producing stories for several publications. In this highly urbanized city where sirens wail every morning, city fathers have had the foresight to produce a series of trails that thread throughout the entire city.

Several days ago, three other men and I rode a segment of the Pinellas Trail to Tarpon Springs. The outing provided insights into this most heavily populated of Florida cities.

My companions were from our campground and represent a small group I have met these past few weeks who seem to be active outdoorsmen. Our campground, you could say, is a melting pot representative of the U.S. at large and we are meeting a variety of good people, but with varied interests. Bob, is one of our new acquaintances, and he has spent the last two winters learning about the outdoor activities that surround us. Kayaking is one; cycling another, particularly as it pertains to what I now call the city’s “ribbons of sanity.”

The Pinellas bike trail began as a result of tragedy. In 1983 a man’s son was killed while riding his bike. Desirous of creating a safe route for others, Fred Marquis helped form the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organizations Bicycle Advisory Committee. Essentially, the committee consisted of bicycle enthusiasts and their goal was to create a safe place to jog, stroll—or cycle. The committee discovered that Pinellas County owned a 34-mile corridor of abandoned railroad right-of-way and didn’t know what to do with it. A union was created.

One of the access points was at the junction of U.S. 19 and Curlew Drive. Within minutes after parking our car at the Publix Food Store, we rode onto a paved trail. Though the trail is now 34-mile long, we used but a portion, picking it up following a 15 minute drive to the intersection of segmented into a walker’s lane and a cyclist’s lane.

Yet another few minutes and we peddled onto a ramp that rose abruptly. As it passed over the four-lane below, it was encased in wire mesh, presumably to prevent vandals from tossing bricks, bottles or other harmful objects onto the four-lane traffic below. The ramp descended quickly, and continued on as a trail, soon passing through an underpass now allowing traffic to flow over us.

As we rode, we passed the “Primate Rehabilitation Center,” apparently owing its existence to the fact that some people want primates as pets, but then discover they cannot handle them. The trail also passed a water purification system so that “used” water could be safely spread over lawns. About five miles into our trip we stopped at Wall Springs County Park. A wooden walk passes over the springs, and we followed its path into a marsh that serves as home to a variety of different species of fish and to the birds that prey on them.

Essentially, the Pinellas trail is level, and we reached Tarpon Springs in about an hour and a half. This was my second trip to Tarpon Springs, the first made by car during the 5 o’clock rush hour traffic—a big mistake. That night traffic had been so thick that our forward progress was reduced to the speed of a pedestrian, and our trip to this old Greek settlement took about the same amount of time as we did on bikes.

Greek immigrants established Tarpon Spring back in the early 1900s, and made a name for themselves as those who harvest sponges from the sea. On this December day, the sponge fleet was quiet, but beautifully decked out in Christmas colors. After taking photographs, we all rode to a nearby café called Mykonos. I ordered a dish called Calamari, which is broiled squid, thinking this would be a good choice as I like virtually all sea foods. Calamari, however, is a dish I’ll never reorder.

From the restaurant, we rode to another small café on the outskirts of Tarpon Springs advertising cold beer and “alligators to feed.” True they had both, but the alligators were small. Nevertheless, the gators caught our attention and we watched as several visitors fed them, using the designated technique of tying dog munchies purchased at the bar to the end of string. The patrons then dangled the offering in front of the mouths of the hungry gators, which responded immediately with quick lunges and gaping jaws.

We began our 10-mile return in late afternoon, knowing we must be off the trail before dark. Though crime in Tampa is a problem, apparently, that’s not the case along the trail, and that’s the direct result of extremely heavy law enforcement. However, at night the effectiveness of the ranger force and sheriff’s department is diminished, and so they advise that all complete their outings before nightfall.

With 90,000 people using the trail each month, the popularity of such activities is obvious, and suggests that more stringent methods of combating crime should be implemented.

I, of course, have some recommendations, but my sure-fire methods of reducing crime against this small faction are probably not appropriate for this entry. What is appropriate is to say that the companionship was great and that the designers of the Pinellas bike trail were farsighted people.

One Response to “Tampa’s Cycling Trails—Ribbons of Sanity Through a Sea of Chaos”

  1. Mike Says:

    Curious as it may sound, the presence of more people is an effective deterrent to crime. Jane Jacobs in her famous book on urban life ages ago made the point that many neighborhoods learned and used to good effect since.

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