1. Life & Culture

Hit the trail, but maintain a solitary path, for safety outdoors

Try a place like the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, if you need to exercise outside.

Doctors have long urged us to get outside for some fresh air and exercise. But there is a debate across the country about the wisdom of closing public parks, playgrounds and beaches to enforce social distancing. They just closed Yosemite, for example. Last week, many of our public beaches closed.

Find a solitary path and take it.

Charles Crater, 72, of Tampa recently took his daily bike ride on the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, a more than 8-mile paved rail trail located in northwest Hillsborough County. “Rangers were telling people that the trail was closed,” Crater said in an email. “I talked to several people on the trail about that, and everyone thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary. ... I know that some places need to be closed because of the coronavirus, but I don’t believe that the Upper Tampa Bay trail is one of them. Trail users do not gather in large groups and are spread out up-and-down the trail. Like me, most people use the trail alone and don’t come near anyone else. I have been riding my bike on the trail for 17 years ... and I’ve ridden over 27,000 miles. This has greatly benefited my health, and if I had to stop using the trail it would be detrimental to my health.”

The Upper Tampa Bay Trail in northwest Hillsborough County is enjoyed by cyclists and joggers. The county has ordered the closure of facilities and offices, which affects some access to it. [ Tampa Bay Times (2010) ]

Prompted by a question from Crater, Paul Cook of the Hillsborough County parks department assured him the trail itself is open. That confusion seems understandable when the country last week issued a directive that said all Hillsborough County Conservation parks were closed including the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. “Only the trail head facilities (gates, restrooms and water stations) are closed or non-operational,” Cook said in an e-mail. “This affects the areas at the Memorial trail head, Wilsky trail head, Channel Park trail head at Waters Avenue and the Lutz Lake Fern Road trail head on the upper Tampa Bay trail north section. I will make sure my team has the correct information so there is not a misunderstanding like this again.”

So, at least for now, that lovely trail, which is good for biking, walking or inline skating trail is ready for exploring, just do it at a safe distance. The county’s nature (ELAPP) preserves at press time remained open such as the Alafia Scrub Nature Preserve, 10243 Elbow Bend Road, Riverview.

Over in Pinellas County, the commission last week closed beach access in its parks, but county boat ramps are still open. Other Pinellas County parks remain open — with the caveat that attendees are encouraged to practice social distancing. The county canceled park shelter reservations and cautioned: No large groups, and don’t move within six feet of another person. "Outdoor exercise per CDC guidelines is good using caution,” administrator Barry Burton said.

In Pasco County, all other parks will function as normal “unless otherwise noted,” the county’s website said. The boat ramps at Anclote River and Strickland are open. In Hernando County, the Rogers Park boat ramp is still open at 4140 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill. But the beach at the park remains closed until further notice.

Times staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.