ST. PETERSBURG — On one blazing hot day in May, Earnest Foster hopped on his bicycle.
In eight hours, he rode 100 miles, making it around the southern tip of Pinellas County. A long day indeed, but a mere notch in his lifetime love affair with the outdoors.
"He loved the exercise, being out in the open countryside," said his wife, Betty Foster. "He wanted to be outside every day."
Mr. Foster was an only child born in West Virginia. He was athletic from the start, playing softball and quarterbacking his high school football team. He served in the Coast Guard during World War II and later worked in management at Union Carbide.
Sixty years ago, he married Mrs. Foster, whom he met at a hamburger restaurant. They raised seven children before retiring to St. Petersburg in 1985.
Mr. Foster served as president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club for several years, and he helped organize races, including the Spring Classic Ride in Manatee County and the Freedom Walk to raise funds for the St. Petersburg Deaf Service Center.
He was a born organizer. So when talk swirled of a trail that would give runners and cyclers a safe alternative to busy roads, Mr. Foster sprung to action. He became the first president of Pinellas Trails Inc., a community group developed to raise funds and awareness for the trail.
Through his people skills and sophisticated campaigning, he raised thousands and promoted the idea of using abandoned railroad corridors as bicycle trails. He became a regular presence at county meetings. He energized his friends to fight for the cause.
"It was real grass roots," said Scott Daniels, current president of Pinellas Trails. "We had a diverse group of people, from bankers to teachers to homemakers to business people. Earnie was the leader. "
The trail not only gave him a place to ride — it also gave him immense satisfaction.
"I've talked with people who say they are now getting back into walking because the trail is open, or said they plan to buy better bikes," Mr. Foster once told the St. Petersburg Times. "It's very gratifying."
He eventually retired his post with the group but stayed involved. He rode his bike constantly until heart problems forced him to stop about five years ago. Even then, he made sure to go outside every day, even just to sit on the beach.
Mr. Foster died Friday. He was 81.
Pinellas Trails members plan to dedicate a bench in his honor. It will be somewhere in St. Petersburg, somewhere in the fresh air.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.