Mountain bikers get okay for Starkey Wilderness Park trail

NEW PORT RICHEY — Three times a week, Trey Starkey loads up his mountain bike and heads for a scenic ride through the woods and a workout.

The developer of Longleaf and the proposed Starkey Ranch would love to ride in Pasco, but the nearest trail head is 25 miles away at Flatwoods Wilderness Park in Hillsborough. The next closest is Croom Wildlife Management Area in Hernando.

"There's nothing really close to here," he said.

Now, after nearly two years of negotiations with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and county parks officials, Pasco is poised to have its own mountain bike trail.

On Tuesday, commissioners gave approval to a mountain bike group to create 8 miles of trails at the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park. The trail, which might eventually expand to 20 miles, will be the first in Pasco set aside exclusively for mountain biking.

The group, the South West Association of Mountain Bike Pedalers, or SWAMP, will build and maintain the trail using volunteers. Once completed, it will be free to the public and SWAMP members.

Work is expected to start in about a month, with the first leg ready in the late spring or early summer, depending on how many volunteers the group can muster for the work.

"Building a trail is a labor of love," Starkey said. "It takes a lot of work and a lot of volunteers."

The route will run east to west starting at the park's entrance off Starkey Road, a few miles north of State Road 54.

SWAMP maintains trails in other parks. In addition to the trails at Flatwoods and Croom, it built trails off Morris Bridge Road and at Alafia River State Park and the Balm Boyette Scrub Preserve. Started in 1992, the group now has 850 members and occasionally draws riders from as far as Miami.

Mountain biking poses different challenges from cycling. The trails, no more than a foot or two wide, span various terrains to challenge riders' technical skills. Riders also enjoy the scenic element, getting out into the woods, away from crowds and traffic.

"I like to get out there and just see the nature," said Kathryn Starkey, who often rides with her husband. "There's nothing like it."

About seven years ago, Trey Starkey pitched the idea to SWAMP members about building trails at Starkey Wilderness Park, but the plan fizzled after the housing market collapsed seven years ago.

Then, a couple of years ago SWAMP approached the water management district, which owns Starkey Wilderness Park, and the county, which maintains it, about again building trails.

District officials walked the park, staked out suitable locations and eventually gave their permission, leaving only the county's go-ahead.

"We like to ride in very natural setting with a lot of wildlife, different flora and trees," the group's president, Tampa architect Ron Zajac, said. "Mountain biking also offers a wide variety of exercise, working the entire body, lifting the front end over roots or downed trees, the technical aspect of it. It's more focused."

The club offers classes and organizes meet-ups. Go to www.swampclub.org for more information.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Mountain bikers get okay for Starkey Wilderness Park trail 10/22/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 10:22pm]

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