CLEARWATER — Joggers, cyclists and skaters seeking sunshine, breezes and panoramic views of Upper Tampa Bay now have a safe passage between Clearwater and Tampa with the completion of the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail.
The opening of the Pinellas County portion of the trail today completes the connection between the Pinellas end of the trail and the Hillsborough County end.
The Hillsborough portion of the trail, which was completed in 2013, consists of 5.5 miles of paved sections and bridge along the south side of the causeway that runs to the Pinellas County line.
The newest part of the trail is a 4-mile extension that completes the crossing of the bay and extends west into Clearwater, providing users access to the popular Pinellas Trail and the Duke Energy Trail via Clearwater's Ream Wilson East-West Trail.
The project establishes, for the first time, continuous trail access between Tampa, Clearwater Beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The trail's completion follows a 20-year effort by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the project's boosters.
Jogger Trisha Street of Clearwater said the new installation will allow her to train for a marathon without having to drive to Tampa to access the first part of the trail.
"Having the trail closer to home is going to be important to me because it'll be easier for me," Street said. "I don't have to drive all the way to Tampa to start the trail and walk the bridge, which I like to do."
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who will announce the trail's completion at a grand opening ceremony this morning, said the completion of this new portion has elicited an enthusiastic response from residents.
"This will enable them to enjoy Tampa Bay to its fullest," he said Thursday. "This helps form that experience and gives another reason to come to Pinellas County as well. I think there's tourism potential here as well."
Lee Royal with the Florida Department of Transportation planning office, where the causeway trail project originated, said it offers options for transportation.
"We're interested in providing a choice along with a safe method for cyclists and runners," he said.
Cretekos said the trail's importance to these communities is twofold.
"We need to exercise more in a safe environment," he said. "This does that." Second, he added, the trail will give the city opportunities to market the area to sports and outdoors enthusiasts (and to locals) who are looking to explore different trails.
"This gives you an opportunity to get away without leaving home," Cretekos said.
The city of Clearwater will oversee operations and maintenance for the new 4-mile segment of the trail, officials said.
Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report.