There's work going on along the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail — all 38.2 miles of it built on an old railroad line running from St. Petersburg through Tarpon Springs.
Volunteer trail rangers, about 64 at last count, bike the trail wearing neon yellow shirts and work on whatever needs come up on their ride — from greeting fellow riders to calling 911 for a downed biker. Volunteers recently returned a wandering turtle to the water, helped a young boy untangle his shoelaces from his bicycle spokes, and replaced a slipped chain.
Rudy Kriebel, 70, of Tampa signed on as a volunteer ranger not long ago. "I was riding the trail regularly and thought if I can help, why not?" he said.
On patrol on a recent morning, Kriebel picked up one of many large, dead palm fronds lying beside the trail — a handy, makeshift broom to sweep a smattering of broken glass off the trail.
"Mostly I've been picking up debris and saying hello to people," he said. "Seeing someone in uniform on the trail gives people a sense of security."
Volunteer rangers Bill Romanski, 71, and his wife Phyllis, 64, Largo winter residents, pick up trash on the trail twice a week and repair bollards, the shiny white posts that block cars from entering the trail.
On occasion the Michigan natives have dealt with more serious issues.
"We had to call 911 for a bike accident we witnessed," Bill Romanski said, "and also for a four-bike accident where one woman suffered broken ribs."
Fortunately, incidents such as these are infrequent.
Nancy Brown, volunteer program coordinator for Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Resources, came on board in 2011 with a grant that stemmed from the Affordable Care Act.
County budget cuts in the last six years eliminated the dozen paid rangers that used to be assigned specifically to the Pinellas Trail, she said. The four who remain patrol in territories — two south of Ulmerton Road and two north of Ulmerton.
Nevertheless, more volunteer rangers are needed, said Brown, as some on the roster of 64 are seasonal or ride only occasionally.
Just the presence of rangers on the trail, she said, has a positive influence on the bikers, walkers, joggers and skaters who frequent not only the length of the official trail, but also the spurs, including the Dunedin Causeway leading to Honeymoon Island. With those spurs, the trail covers 47 miles.
Joe Mirman, 82, of Palm Harbor has been a volunteer ranger since 2001, riding the north trail.
"I enjoy the ride itself," he said, "but I also like the fact that I'm contributing something to the county."
Mirman carries a bike pump and is knowledgeable about repairs. He has pumped up tires and replaced chains for other riders, and offers trail maps and gives directions.
"I've also met a lot of nice people riding and I enjoy talking with them," he said. "Some of those also went on to become auxiliary rangers."
Brown provides training classes for potential volunteers. A four-hour introductory course focuses on biking safety, including helmet use. Several times a year, a full-day session is held on first aid and CPR.
"Being present and visible can deter a lot of vandalism and crime," Brown said of the rangers. "They are our eyes and ears on the trail."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be reached at [email protected]