Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Going for a walk and discovering a new Tampa

Deborah Whitehead and Gail Coleman didn't know about the mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery, nor that Tampa's first mayor was buried there. They hadn't heard about the prominent white civic leader named William Ashley who now rests in peace with his longtime companion, an African-American servant named Nancy.

Neither had I, even though the cemetery with all its historical nuggets sits a few blocks from my downtown office.

We agreed that we could learn more about this city — and perhaps get fit in the process.

I met Whitehead and Coleman last week during Do the LOCAL Motion, a walking tour program that has taken off quite nicely.

If you haven't noticed, at noon every other Friday a big group gathers at Lykes Gaslight Square Park. Some are dressed in comfortable sweatpants or shorts. Others have slipped on gym shoes and a T-shirt with their office skirts and slacks. They break into smaller sets and walk 1.5 to 2 miles round-trip.

A tour guide points to landmarks in and around downtown: Oaklawn Cemetery, the old First United Methodist Church building on N Florida Avenue.

Healthy Together, a coalition that promotes healthy living, worked with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to create the tours as a way to promote exercise. The effort was needed, especially after a survey last year highlighted the Tampa Bay area as one of the nation's worst for "walkability," said Dianne Blyler, the coalition's vice president.

The tours started Oct. 3 and, with businesses spreading the word at company forums and through human resources departments, 200 to 300 people have shown up for each walk, Blyler said.

Organizers plan to offer them through mid December, break for the holidays, then start up again sometime in 2009. Blyler envisions Super Bowl tourists taking the tours, too. Podcasts with local musicians and the voice of a tour guide allow people to take walks at their convenience.

R.J. Falsone, a 55-year-old clerk at the courthouse, took her first tour last week. "I need the exercise, sitting at that computer all day," she said.

Walking also gives local businesses an economic boost, leaders say. That sounded a bit far-fetched to me, until I talked with Casey Crone, a 32-year-old office manager for Batson-Cook downtown. She and Margaret Hickey, 47, were on their second walking tour, hoping to build up stamina for the American Lung Association's annual 42-flight climb up the Bank of America building in March.

A tour guide led them down N Franklin Street, and Crone noticed a cute little gift shop she never knew existed. She'll go back again, she said.

Then came Paulette Schlies, 59, who drove an hour and a half from her home in New Port Richey. She's part of an area walking club and was curious about the efforts in Tampa. And the exterior of one historic-looking building was equally intriguing.

"I'm going to have to look up the Tampa Theatre and find out what's going on here," she said, studying the old-fashioned marquee.

Coleman, 55, and Whitehead, 52, work downtown at the tax collector's office and found themselves learning more about Tampa, while walking to keep their "bones in motion," one of them said.

During a previous tour that included a stop at the University of Tampa, Coleman walked the campus grounds and thought it interesting "to see the young people out tanning."

Whitehead commented on a previous tour near Harbour Island, an area she had never paid much attention to. An adventurous guide led her group through the lobby areas of the Marriott and Hyatt hotels.

"It was soooo nice," Whitehead said, beaming. "Folks come to Florida to see that kind of stuff. We're right here in it."

I suppose what Blyler says has a ring of truth: "You never know a city," she said, "until you walk it."

>>fast facts

Do the LOCAL Motion

Downtown walking tours are 1.5 to 2 miles round-trip and begin at Lykes Gaslight Square Park, 400 block of N. Franklin Street. They are timed to last a lunch break, from noon to about 12:45 p.m. You can also take the tours at your convenience by downloading podcasts with music and tour guides at

Walking tour dates

Nov. 14: East downtown and Port of Tampa areas

Dec. 5: South downtown and the Riverwalk

Dec. 19: West downtown and Plant Park

Going for a walk and discovering a new Tampa 11/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 6, 2008 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Want elite college football athletes? Recruit Tampa Bay


    Now that college football watch list season is over (I think), here's one takeaway you probably already knew: Tampa Bay produces a lot of great athletes.

    Robinson High produuct Byron Pringle has gone from this performance in a high school all-star game to all-Big 12 at Kansas State.
  2. What you need to know for Wednesday, July 26


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    A heart-shaped box containing Katie Golden's ashes sits next to her picture at her family's South Tampa home. Katie died from a drug overdose in April 2017. She was only 17-years-old. Read about her parents' journey at [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]
  3. Cuban diplomat reflects on U.S. relationship: 'Cuba was treated horribly'


    Few topics are more controversial in Florida than Cuba, a nation that has held fast to Communism despite lying 90 miles from the shores of a capitalist superpower. It's a place where startling poverty results from either a longtime U.S. trade embargo or a half-century of Communism, depending on one's point of view. …

    Carlos Alzugaray spent a half century as a scholar and diplomat for the Cuban government, including a stint as ambassador to the European Union.
  4. Clearwater residents avoid tax rate increase for ninth year in row

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — Residents will avoid a rate hike on their property taxes for the ninth year in a row as taxable values continue to recover from recession levels, padding city coffers.

    Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said the city must be prepared for unexpected expenses. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
  5. Rays beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

    The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.