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Google trekkers capture images of Tampa Bay beaches

Sean McGeever, 23, of St. Petersburg walks the beach at Honeymoon Island on Monday while documenting the landscape for Google Maps and Visit Florida. McGeever is among four trekkers walking 825 miles of Florida beaches for the project.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Sean McGeever, 23, of St. Petersburg walks the beach at Honeymoon Island on Monday while documenting the landscape for Google Maps and Visit Florida. McGeever is among four trekkers walking 825 miles of Florida beaches for the project.

CLEARWATER

On Monday morning, David DeLong and Sean McGeever boarded a ferry to Anclote Key Preserve. The sun was hot through the clouds. But it was time to start walking.

DeLong, 55, hoisted a 40-pound blue backpack over his shoulders. A pole protruded from the bag and towered over his head, carrying a globe-sized green orb with 15 cameras that can constantly transmit pictures to Google's offices in California.

DeLong, a Davis Islands resident, and McGeever, 23, of St. Petersburg are in Tampa Bay this week, hiking Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island, Clearwater Beach and others.

They're working with Google Street View and Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, to create a panoramic view and allow people to take beach walks via their computer screens.

"It was beautiful this morning," DeLong said after hiking 3 miles on Anclote Key, adding that the sand was hard and easy to tread. "Really nice."

The pair, alongside two other trekkers who started in the Panhandle, plan to hike 825 miles of Florida beaches, wrapping up in South Beach by mid November.

On the hard-to-reach beaches of Anclote Key and Honeymoon Island on Monday, DeLong and McGeever didn't attract much attention, even with their Star Wars-esque equipment jutting high into the air. But in the busier areas, they say, some beachgoers stare quietly and others jump in front of the cameras.

Images of people will be blurred out before they hit the Web, said DeLong, adding that he recently hiked a nude beach in Cape Canaveral.

DeLong and McGeever walk five days per week, starting about 8 a.m. and finishing in the late afternoon. They eat energy bars, lather up with sunscreen and wear sneakers with high socks so the sand doesn't get in.

"This has been tougher than I thought because of the sun," said DeLong, an ultra-runner who three times has run rim-to-rim across the 45-mile Grand Canyon. "This is awesome, though. Something my kids can see."

During long walks, DeLong said, he thinks about getting done as quickly as possible. McGeever, the quieter of the two, said he thinks about girls.

Project manager Nelson Mongiovi said the trekkers should hit some major benchmarks Thursday, when they expect to be at Treasure Island.

By then, the project will have accumulated more than 5 million photographs from roughly 500 miles of beach.

The work is funded using equipment from Google and $500,000 in grant money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The trekkers are paid about $30 per hour, minus gas and lodging.

This is the first time the company has loaned out its equipment to a private partner, but Mongiovi said Google employees monitor the trekkers, calling them when they see something amiss.

"When you're out there walking, you're just kind of going along," he said. "Then you get a call from the folks at Google and they will say, 'You need to clean lens 9.' "

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155.

Google trekkers capture images of Tampa Bay beaches 09/30/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 5:00pm]
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