Advertisements will start popping up by next year on the 47-mile Pinellas Trail.
The ads are part of a two-year pilot program the county launched in July 2013 with Bikepath Country Florida, LLC, a company that specializes in sponsorship programs of paths and parks, to install signs to replace deteriorating and non-uniform ones.
The 27 signs installed in mid March contain directional information, trail rules and safety tips.
"Compared to old signage that used to be on the trail, this is a huge improvement," said Paul Cozzie, the county's director of parks and conservation resources.
Bikepath Country will seek out advertisers that would be approved by the county. Attached plates displaying the sponsor name and logo will take up the bottom part of the 21- by 45-inch signs, which are no less than 1/2 mile apart, Cozzie said.
The county is expected to receive 30 percent of profits after expenses, or up to $45,600 per year, which would be used for upkeep of the trail that runs from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg.
Although Cozzie said the company has yet to secure a sponsor, he's not worried.
"For us, the primary thing was to get the signs replaced at no cost, so we've accomplished that; anything further, such as when they secure a sponsor and we get our 30 percent cut of the revenues, is really just icing on the cake," he said.
The signs will likely contain no more than a logo and text stating that the company is a sponsor, Cozzie said. The county will have the final say on which companies may advertise as well as sign specifications including size, shape and design.
The idea of nature and commercialism mixing does not sit well with some people, such as Tim Martin of St. Petersburg who is a member of the Suncoast chapter of the Sierra Club.
"Some sections of the trail go through more natural areas, and those should be protected from advertising and sign pollution," Martin said. "I wouldn't want to see the recreational experience destroyed by signs blocking or hampering the natural beauty of the trail in those areas."
Scott Daniels, president of Pinellas Trail Inc, a friends of the trail group, said their goal has always been to have minimal signage, but these new signs helped consolidate myriad older ones.
"The benefits certainly outweigh any concerns," he said.
Belleair resident Rob Banks, 36, rides his bike to his job as activities director at the Dunedin Assisted Living Facility three days a week and said he supported the sponsorship program.
"Any way they could enhance the trail with increased revenue would be great," Banks said. "I think it would make everyone's experience more fun."
Pinellas Trail operations and maintenance costs run about $250,000 a year, and that does not include several ongoing projects at various stages for fixing erosion, which will cost about $800,000, and land leveling on the shoulders of the trail that will cost more than $400,000, Cozzie said.
After the contract expires in 2015, the county will have the option of either purchasing the signs from the company, extending the contract or rebidding the service, he said.
Bikepath Country also has a contract with the state for installing signs with ads on seven state trails. The agreement allows 23 signs up to 16 square feet at trailheads and 13 signs up to 4 square feet at access points.
Contact Taylor Goldenstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155. Follow @taygoldenstein.