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Canterbury residents not keen on trail route

(ran PC edition)

Every year, the kids of Canterbury jazz up their bikes in an explosion of patriotic colors and, with parents by their sides, they march through the two-street subdivision like floats in a Fourth of July Parade.

"We all walk together and carry flags," Sharon Norman, a mother of two, said. "It's hysterical."

To hear Norman and other moms describe it, Canterbury is a slice of small-town America superimposed upon the suburban landscape.

The development is surrounded by woods on two sides and a wall along Gunn Highway. Cul-de-sacs keep through-traffic, as well as strangers, out. The insularity has bred a strong sense of protectiveness toward the little oasis, which is why most of the 66 families in Canterbury reject any idea of extending the Upper Tampa Bay Trail through the subdivision. A petition signed by more than 60 residents underscores the depth of the opposition.

The trail currently runs about 8 miles through Town 'N Country all the way to Peterson Road. It, too, is a refuge of sorts amid explosive development. Trail users can regularly be seen walking dogs and riding bicycles as traffic zooms by on busy roads, including the Veterans Expressway. Annual usership reached 100,000 between 2001 and 2002, according to a survey by the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department.

But it never was meant to stop in Citrus Park, where a new bridge will soon ferry users over Gunn. A final leg, proposed back in the mid 1990s, is supposed to carve a 7.5-mile path through Keystone before connecting to the Suncoast Parkway's bike and walking trail at Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

Unfortunately for Canterbury residents, one of the best possible routes is along the Tampa Electric Co.'s right-of-way running straight through the subdivision. Although all the northern routes are being studied, the choices come down to two legs: one that crosses Canterbury and runs along the west side of the Brooker Creek Headwaters Preserve, or a path that completely bypasses Canterbury and eventually runs north along the eastern end of the preserve.

The western route through Canterbury is clearly the less expensive one, said Charner Reese, a principal planner with Hillsborough County's Greenways program. That could make a difference when seeking federal funding for the $7-million-plus project, which would form an uninterrupted 58-mile route in combination with the 42-mile Suncoast Parkway Trail.

After a sometimes rancorous meeting with area residents in December, trail planners went back to the drawing board but could only devise minor changes. Both routes involve some land acquisition, especially the alternative to Canterbury.

"We looked at some options there but they were all worse," Reese said. "But nothing has been decided yet."

Reese and Hillsborough Greenways Committee Chairman Ed Crawford feel Canterbury residents should be embracing the trail. Concerns about crime, horses, noisy patrol vehicles and unruly users are unfounded, they say.

"I think you can sum up the meeting in a couple of words _ fear of strangers," said Crawford, who cites early opposition to the popular Pinellas and Upper Tampa Bay trails. "Trails, nationwide, have turned out to be one of the most popular things to come out of the 1991 law," that has transformed hundreds of old railroad beds and rights-of-way into public recreation centers.

Residents do, indeed, speak fearfully about an invasion of strangers. Clutching some of their own children while waiting for others to arrive at the bus stop, Janel Astorquiza, Petrina Florentino and Jan Volz clearly like things just the way they are. All signed the petition.

"This is our home," Florentino said. "This is the place our children are supposed to feel safe."

Opposition like that leaves Scott Farr the odd man out. After seeing the trail running through his mother's community of Peachtree City, Ga., he welcomes a similar extension through Canterbury.

"I like to ride bicycles, I like to run, so do my wife and daughter," Farr said. "I don't think it's going to be a problem everybody envisions."

The final study, which will recommend a preferred route, is due out by the end of March, Reese said. The final decision on the trail's path rests with the Hillsborough County Commission.

Emotions in Canterbury are sure to run high until that time and, depending on the outcome, perhaps long afterwards.

The women carefully eye an SUV heading down Isbell as children play in the street.

"Careful!" Florentino yells out.