HOLIDAY — For those looking for another option to get some fresh air and enjoy the autumn outdoors, Pasco County’s Coastal Anclote Trail is debuting this week.
County and state officials are also celebrating a belated ribbon cutting for the Starkey Gap Trail.
To County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, these projects demonstrate the best that Pasco County has to offer, spotlighting recreation and open spaces while building up economic development and tourism.
“Statistics have shown that when you live by a trail, your property values go up,” Starkey said. “It’s a great improvement too for economic development when you see the kinds of things that can happen along a trail.”
Whether walking or biking, the new Coastal Anclote Trail offers tree-framed pathways, waterfront views and a glimpse at greenery and wildlife to counteract the stresses of 2020. The trail winds through 4.5 miles, interconnecting three southwestern county parks: Anclote River Park, Anclote Gulf Park and Key Vista Nature Park.
Much of the pathway runs through lands included in the Pasco Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program, which focuses on protecting habitat and providing compatible recreational opportunities.
Eventually the route will also meet up with the Pinellas Trail when the planned Elfers Spur Trail extension is built. That trail will pick up where the Coastal Anclote leaves off at the Pasco/Pinellas county line.
“This is going to be a very significant connection for the folks living in the Holiday community,” said Sam Beneck, the Coastal Anclote trail project manager. When Tarpon Springs completes the spur extension, Beneck said, “it’s going to be a very do-able and beautiful trail from Holiday down to Tarpon Springs.”
The 12-foot-wide multi-use paved trail, which was paid for by the Penny for Pasco, covers a variety of habitats along the way, he said. The work was designed to limit impact on the environment and included removal of invasive species. Beneck said workers building the trail could verify visitors will pass through an area of abundant wildlife, as they encountered coyotes, wild turkeys and even a bald eagle or two during the project.
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The path chosen used lands already in public ownership so that no additional land needed to be acquired. According to the county’s project description, “This was accomplished by utilizing existing right-of-way, park area, protected land area owned by Pasco County, areas owned by the District School Board of Pasco County, and areas in the Duke Energy Corridor.”
Compared with other portions of the regional trail system, some of which are long stretches best enjoyed by serious biking enthusiasts, the Coastal Anclote Trail meanders among parks, neighborhoods and schools. Long before it’s official opening, area residents have been slipping in for rides from their residential streets. “The trail is really built for the recreational rider,” Beneck said.
He said that there was great effort made to keep the tree canopy where possible along the trail and the entire way has interesting views for visitors to enjoy. “It’s a really great part of the county and we’re happy to make it a little more accessible to folks,” he said.
Another popular trail which has been in use for months but just hadn’t been able to plan a ribbon cutting until this week is the Starkey Gap Trail.
The Starkey Gap Trail was a project completed by the Florida Department of Transportation earlier this year as a portion of the state’s 250-mile Coast-to-Coast Connector linking St. Petersburg to Titusville. The Starkey Gap Trail covers 2.4 miles connecting the southern end of the Starkey Trail just north of State Road 54 south along the Duke Energy right of way to Pinellas County.
The trail is significant because the connection creates 100 miles of uninterrupted bike and pedestrian paths tying the Pinellas Trail to the Starkey Trail and onward to Starkey Wilderness Trail and a link to the Suncoast Trail adjacent to the Suncoast Parkway.
The trail has been in use but the formal celebration of its completion had to wait because state officials were restricted to travel earlier due to the pandemic. Starkey couldn’t hide her excitement about finally seeing a project she had pushed since Jeb Bush was Florida Governor come to fruition. “This will now be the longest piece of the Coast-to-Coast,” she said.
Working with all the players needed to get the job done was time consuming, but ended up “a beautiful, long-awaited trail,” Starkey said.
She also praised the completion of the Coastal Anclote Trail saying “it may be the prettiest trail in the county.”
Starkey said her hope is to see all kinds of small business pop up and grow along the route, which has the big side benefit of highlighting the best of three of the county’s parks. From her perspective, nothing makes a trail ride as much fun as finding little shops and eateries along the way.
“I expect that this is going to bring a lot of people here,” she said.