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Old road provides a peek at the past

State workers clearing some pesky underbrush here recently uncovered quite a find for Pinellas County.

Beneath the tangle of vines and other growth was a 70-year-old road that predates Alt. U.S. 19 and U.S. 19. And thanks to the efforts of one local resident, the 4-acre tract where the road was uncovered may become a park for the Pinellas Trail.

"It is a nice piece of history that was discovered," said Marcel Mohseni, a county planner who is researching the origins of Road 37, uncovered in June at Alt. U.S. 19 and Curlew Road.

The old road roughly runs parallel to Alt. U.S. 19 through a stand of Australian pines alongside the trail. The state was clearing the land to deter crime and make the trail safer.

That is when Reggie Hall of Ozona drove by and thought the property would make a nice park. He began calling county staff members and elected officials, setting in motion wheels that still are turning.

It may become the second piece of land that Hall has helped preserve. Eight years ago, he and other Ozona residents persuaded the county to buy and set aside a few fragile acres there.

One person can make a difference, Hall said.

"What I did is what any one of us can do, should do and what I want us to do," he said.

The long, narrow tract on Alt. U.S. 19 was purchased decades ago by the state Department of Transportation as a right of way for an old alignment of that road, said Leo Folsom, a DOT spokeswoman. DOT is investigating whether it still needs the land.

"Until it's determined to be surplus, we can't get rid of it," Folsom said.

She expects a decision next month.

If DOT relinquishes the land, it will be up to either Pinellas County or Dunedin to improve and maintain it.

"We know we'd like to do it, but we're not really sure whose responsibility it will be," said Brian Smith, director of planning for the county.

Smith said the county would like to add picnic tables and mount a plaque to mark old Road 37, which according to a 1925 map also was called Bayshore Road.

Mohseni's research shows the road was built in 1923-24 and gave residents a direct route between Dunedin and Ozona. There was no Alt. U.S. 19 then, but Road 37 followed the same general alignment.

But where Alt. U.S. 19 now travels north through Palm Harbor, Road 37 swung west into Ozona. It meandered through the fishing village, ending at what is now Tampa Road.

The uncovered segment of Road 37 is 17 to 18 feet wide and probably was a one-lane thoroughfare. The road was built with oversized, dark brown bricks that are a mixture of asphalt and red brick. The bricks were topped with a layer of asphalt and marl that is visible now.

Looking at the site from the Pinellas Trail overpass just north of the property, it is not hard to imagine travel earlier this century. The wispy pines create a tunnel around what once was Road 37.