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Cruising St. Petersburg's water worlds

Sweetwater Kayaks owner Russell Farrow, left, gives Taj Flemming, 6, a tour of the north side of the Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg.

LARA CERRI | Times

Sweetwater Kayaks owner Russell Farrow, left, gives Taj Flemming, 6, a tour of the north side of the Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg.

When St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker took office eight years ago, he said he wanted to get more of the city's residents outside. "There are so many great recreational opportunities in this city," he said. "But up until now, many people didn't know that we had so many great places to paddle." But that changed this month when the Baker launched the city's new BlueWays Canoe and Kayak Trail. The city now has 10 mapped trails, nine in saltwater and one on a freshwater lake. "My favorite is Weedon Island because it is such a well-preserved wilderness area," Baker said. "But having recently paddled Big Bayou, that section is a real close second." St. Petersburg has published a BlueWays map and guide, available free at most public libraries and city offices. A brief description of each trail segment:

Weedon Island

The 3.6-mile marked trail through Weedon Island Preserve is one of the best paddles in Pinellas County. The area is rich in both natural and cultural history. Paddlers can access the trail from Weedon Island Park or from Sweetwater Kayaks on Gandy Boulevard. The mangrove islands along this trail are a favorite haunt of snook, which makes this section of the BlueWays trail popular with kayak fishermen. This trail is ideal for novice paddlers.

Rio Vista

This 2.2-mile trail is unmarked but still a good choice for beginners. The trail, which takes paddlers through Riviera Bay and the residential canals of the Rio Vista neighborhood, can be accessed from Weedon Island Park, but if you plan to paddle on a weekend, get there early because the parking lot can get crowded.

Gandy Boulevard

Take your choice of two trails. The West Trail, which takes paddlers through the mangroves of Snug Harbor, is 3.5 miles long. The East Trail, which heads out into the open waters of Tampa Bay, is 4.5 miles long. Boat traffic and the possibility of severe weather make the East Trail geared more for intermediate paddlers.

Downtown Waterfront

You don't have to do without creature comforts to enjoy the St. Petersburg BlueWays. More than 8 miles of the trail runs along the downtown waterfront. Put in at Coffee Pot Park or Demen's Landing then take a break at Spa Beach, which is just a short walk from several first-class restaurants.

Big Bayou

This 6.5-mile section of trail, with launching points at Grandview Park or Coquina Key Park, meanders through the vast sea grass meadows of Big Bayou, a favorite haunt of the West Indian manatee. These sheltered waters are great for beginners or paddlers who want take a safe, leisurely adventure with small children. Be sure to check out the bird rookery south of Coquina Key at the entrance to Little Bayou.

Pinellas Point

Explore the southern tip of Pinellas County, one of the best kayak fishing spots on the west coast of Florida. Put in at Bay Vista Park, then follow the shoreline toward the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. On a good day, this is a great paddle for novices. But if the wind kicks up, this route should only be attempted by more advanced paddlers.

Clam Bayou

One of the few areas along the trail where freshwater meets salt, you will see a variety of wildlife along this 4-mile stretch. The Clam Bayou Preserve is maintained by the cities of St. Petersburg and Gulfport. Access the trail from Clam Bayou Park, off 34th Avenue South.

Maximo Park

Enjoy spectacular views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as you circumnavigate Bird Key, aptly named for its variety of water birds. Launch at the city park, built on an ancient Indian mound, then enjoy a 2.2-mile open-water paddle or explore the protected waters of Frenchman's Creek.

Fort De Soto

This 7-mile trail through the crown jewel of the Pinellas County Park system has a little something for everyone. Paddlers have the option of staying in the backcountry or venturing out along the beach, which offers a good view of the Spanish-American War era fort.

Dell Homes Park

The 2.5-mile trail, the only segment of the BlueWays in freshwater, takes you along the western shore of Lake Maggiore, a body of water known for its healthy alligator population.

FAST FACTS

If you go

Print a map from the county's Web site below and paddle on your own. Or, if you don't own a boat, rent a kayak from the Sweetwater Kayaks shop on Snug Harbor. It also delivers kayaks to Weedon Island upon request. Sweetwater Kayaks will also meet large groups at other sections of the St. Petersburg BlueWays Trail.

Kayaks: Sweetwater Kayaks, 13060 Gandy Boulevard, St. Petersburg, (between the Banana Boat and I.C. Sharks). Contact the shop by phone at (727) 570-4844, via the Internet at www.sweetwaterkayaks

.com or e-mail at TheShop@Sweetwater

kayaks.com.

Maps: Go to www.pinellas

county.org/plan/blueways

for maps of the new St. Petersburg trail as well as other paddling opportunities in the county.

Cruising St. Petersburg's water worlds 12/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 5:04pm]

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