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Bike trail could bring economic benefits to Brooksville

I know most of you are sick of reading about Dan DeWitt and his bicycle, so this is all I'll say about my Sunday morning ride on the Withlacoochee State Trail.

If you didn't make it out there on this sunny, crisp fall weekend to either take a walk or cruise along on two wheels, I actually feel sorry for you. That's how gorgeous it was.

This trail taps into the open space on the east side of Hernando and neighboring counties that, as a regional asset, ranks up there with the Weeki Wachee River and the Gulf of Mexico. The trail passes cattle grazing in pastures, the Withlacoochee State Forest, towns such as Floral City that were settled for some other purpose but, I swear, have reached their peak use as idyllic bike riders' lunch stops.

No wonder an estimated 300,000 people used the trail last year. So, wouldn't it be nice if a few of them took a detour into Brooksville?

Well, pretty soon, almost certainly, they will.

With construction on the first 3 miles of the Good Neighbor Trail entering its final stages, the state Department of Transportation said last month it has set aside $2 million to build the final 6.7 miles. This will complete the long-anticipated 10-mile link between Russell Street, in southern Brooksville, and the Withlacoochee trail.

The final stretch has made the department's five-year work program, which means that for the first time there are firm plans to build it, said Steve Diez, the county's bicycle-pedestrian coordinator.

"This is a big deal," Diez said Monday.

I should also add that this trail has been in the works as long the Hernando Beach dredge, that it has progressed so slowly it seems to operate by its own, slow-turning calender, and that, by this measure, "pretty soon" means five years from now.

And, yes, it's possible the money will disappear before then. It's in a federal transportation fund for trails and other extras, and some people in Washington, D.C., don't think this is a worthy way to spend tax revenue.

"Every year, it's under attack," Diez said of the fund.

So are these critics right? Is a couple of million dollars too much for a bike trail?

Well, consider that two years ago, we used $1.2 million in stimulus money to repave the already glass-smooth surface of the Suncoast Trail.

Consider, also, that when I talked to one of my Citrus County buddies last Friday, he was looking forward to taking his wife out to a multi-course Italian meal in downtown Inverness, which among other options for a night out includes bars specializing in martinis and craft beers, an Irish pub and a couple of solid family restaurants.

And in downtown Brooksville? Nothing worth mentioning. Not after dark.

It's no coincidence that the revival of downtown Inverness started about the time the trail cut through it, in the mid 1990s.

No, a bike trail won't make Brooksville a major tourist destination. But it could easily bring in a few more visitors, who will support a few more downtown businesses. And these, along with the trail itself, will make Brooksville more attractive to prospective home buyers and investors.

So, in view of the long-term economic impact, $2 million is peanuts.

Then there's the really important benefit: getting a few more folks out of bed and off the couch on beautiful fall mornings.

Bike trail could bring economic benefits to Brooksville 11/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 9:36pm]
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