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The trail to fitness

(ran PAS edition)

South Tampa fitness aficionados have stylish Bayshore Boulevard, with Tampa Bay as a backdrop for jogging, cycling and in-line skating.

Land O'Lakes has Collier Parkway: Bayshore with orange groves.

Every evening, people can be seen keeping in shape on the sidewalk.

People like Greg Brown and Tamara Elliot of Lake Padgett Estates East. They moved to the area recently from a Lutz apartment complex.

Now, their 5-mile runs are more scenic and they don't have to dodge traffic or animals with bad attitudes.

"I don't have to worry about cars coming too close, or getting bitten by a dog like I did at the apartment," said Elliot, 31. Most dogs she encounters on Collier are leashed, she said. "I like (running along Collier Parkway) because of the sidewalk. It's more open and you can go either way."

Brown, 34, relishes having a place to run so close to home.

"You don't have to drive anywhere. You don't have to park," he said. "You just jog out your front door, down the street and you're on it. And you look at an orange grove instead of buildings."

Jill Orpin, a Lake Padgett Estates resident and Pine View Middle School teacher, runs every day.

She's called "the queen of the parkway," by Linda Brunet, who walks Collier Parkway with her husband, Mel. "She jogs from one end to the other, faithfully," Linda Brunet said.

Said Orpin: "I'm a compulsive-obsessive personality. There's a lot of stress release involved in (running)."

Orpin, 45, began walking along Collier Parkway when the road was built five years ago. She had quit smoking and was gaining weight. Eventually, Orpin picked up the pace and began jogging.

Many passers-by recognize Orpin and encourage her. "I wave to everybody," she said, "and I have had a lot of kids that call me Forrest Gump."

While most of Orpin's runs have been without incident, she recalled a dangerous encounter on one jaunt two years ago.

Approaching a retention pond near the Land O'Lakes Little League fields, Orpin said she saw what "looked like a large clump of grass in the middle of the sidewalk. I went running up to it and I was going to jump over it. I got within 5 feet of it and this clump of grass turned around and started hissing at me like a cat."

It was an alligator. It walked away before she could tell anyone.

"I said, please, somebody come by," she recalled. "Nobody's going to believe my story."

Those who use the sidewalk say it is a major reason the road has become such a popular exercise route.

The Brunets walk 2 to 3 miles five nights a week.

"We used to walk to the (Lake Padgett Estates East) clubhouse and dodge cars," Linda Brunet said. "You had to walk in the median, which would be wet at times. We love the sidewalk. You do feel safe."

Elroy and Betty Breault, who last week celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary, walk from their home on Weeks Boulevard past the orange grove to Lake Padgett Estates East once or twice a week.

"It's a good place to walk, where we won't get run over by cars," Betty Breault said. "Even when Ruthie (Gustafson, her sister) comes down from Michigan, we walk."

The Land O'Lakes Runners Club primarily runs in the vicinity of Pine View Middle School, said club member Kris Keppel. But the group of a dozen or so runners takes to Collier Parkway on Sunday mornings.

Keppel and his wife, Darlene, also like to ride their bicycles, but they don't often ride along Collier Parkway, he said, "because there's too many people walking and running and rollerblading."

Keppel, whose arm was cut in March 1995 when he was bicycling along Parkway Boulevard and a car grazed him, would prefer to see a paved bicycle path along Parkway.

Most of the bicycle riders on Collier Parkway, it seems, are children. Josh Kitson, 11, and Jeremiah Chavez, 13, have ridden their bikes from Weeks Boulevard to the recreation complex to play basketball or floor hockey nearly every day this summer.

Chavez said more people, young and old alike, should take advantage of Collier Parkway.

"Society's getting lazy," he said. "They need to exercise more."

"I ride on the sidewalk," Kitson said, adding that he often passes runners and skaters.

Marcie Vanyur and Crystal Butler, both 14, have been in-line skating on Collier Parkway for two years.

"It's the only road around here that has sidewalks," Butler said.

Vanyur has noticed more people using the road, and she thinks that can be attributed to new subdivisions drawing people to central Pasco.

One of the newest developments along the Collier Parkway extension is Sable Ridge, which Brown said will add runners, walkers, bike riders and skaters.

"It's not crowded yet, but Sable Ridge isn't sold (out) yet," Brown said.