The smooth new sidewalk along 2 miles of busy Moon Lake Road allows safe passage for children walking and bicycling to the sprawling River Ridge middle/high school complex. It has a name — Corey's Trail — although there are no signs.
For those who know the story, the sidewalk itself is the sign. It's proof that for all the naysayers who think the world is going to hell, we're actually in pretty good hands.
Corey Smith, 17, shows us that a good idea need not get lost in bureaucracy. He's full of them, along with a passion to serve his community that likely started when as a little guy he tagged along with his mom on Paint Your Heart Out Day. Now he has a resume full of good deeds, which just this month earned him President Barack Obama's Volunteer Service Award.
But to best tell the story of this young man, you have to start with the sidewalk.
He was but 12 when he rode to school with his mom, Elaine Smith. As they turned onto Moon Lake Road, Corey worried that the speeding traffic came awfully close to children walking through the weeds. He told his mother, "They need a sidewalk.''
Elaine Smith was in her second year as parks and recreation director for the city of New Port Richey. She had previously worked 21 years for Pasco County parks, so she knew a little something about bureaucracy. She gave the boy some tips, "but he just ran with it,'' she recalled.
Corey started with the county engineer's office and learned that a sidewalk was indeed planned for that area but not until 2026. He wanted to appeal to county commissioners to expedite construction, but first knew he had to arm himself with information. He got aerial maps to show where the sidewalk should be built, along with crosswalks. Then he found something that would be the key in accomplishing his goal: a funding source. He called the Florida Department of Transportation in Tallahassee and learned about "Safe Routes to School,'' a federal partnership established for just this sort of thing.
And so when he finally went to the county commission, he could answer all their questions. Was he intimidated? "Not really,'' he recalled. "I thought they would agree it was a good idea.''
He was right. The commission directed staff to apply for grant money. When officials at the county's Greenways and Trails Committee heard about Corey's efforts, they agreed to name the sidewalk after him. And after some delays related to the construction company's financial picture, the project was completed last summer.
Corey didn't stop with the sidewalk. As a member of the Youth Advisory Board his mother started at the city's recreation department, he joined with his brother Tanner, 13, and a dozen other youths in several community projects. They picked trash out of the Pithlachascotee River, helped a poor family at Christmas, served meals at a soup kitchen, spruced up businesses with plants and flowers.
They camped out in cardboard boxes to draw attention to the homeless and organized a fitness walk around Orange Lake as part of an anti-obesity campaign. Meanwhile, Corey volunteered at Special Olympics and the Angelus, a center in Hudson for severely disabled people. He worked as a camp counselor and as a member of the National Honor Society at River Ridge High, tutored other students. Corey is in the school's engineering academy and hopes to get into a bio-medical engineering program in college. He has a 4.1 grade point average and takes advance placement courses and honors physics and pre-calculus. And in case you think he's a nerd, he's 6 feet 2 and about 210 pounds, plays varsity basketball and runs track.
"I think I'm still growing,'' he said in a deep voice.
He was recently one of only six Pasco County high school juniors selected for this summer's American Legion Boy's State program in Tallahassee. He will be among 500 students from around the state who will create a mock government during one week. They will simulate elected officials. Corey wants to be governor, maybe a senator.
He also has another plan for this summer. He wants to work at the new McDonald's under construction a few miles from his house. If he gets the job — and why wouldn't he? — he'll be able to walk to work on that nice new sidewalk.