By KATHY A. MEGYERI
Welcome back snowbirds. Are you looking for a healthy, new way to see our beautiful state?
Betteann Sherman of Ft. Myers is part of an avid biking group who loves to explore the Florida terrain. She and her fellow bikers, all from Lee County, started cycling together 10 years ago, seeking fun and adventure on many of Florida’s Rail Trails – former rail lines and connecting corridors converted to paths for bikes, bladers, joggers, pedestrians, and yes, snowbirds.
Sometimes they pack a lunch; other times they eat in towns along the way – always learning about Florida’s bountiful flora and fauna, as well as its history.
Each trail has its own special vibe, Sherman says. “We love the Pinellas Trail for its diverse scenery and hill ramps, which is good for the heart and thighs. St. Pete to Tarpon Springs
is a beautiful ride. Withlacoochee State Trail is a lovely, long 46-mile continuous trail.”
“At the Legacy Trail, we get to take advantage of Venice’s and Sarasota’s restaurants. Sanibel Island has unspoiled beauty and gorgeous beaches,” she says.
According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of these trails, Florida has 54 rail-trails and 33 projects in the works.
The beauty of these paths is that they help avoid motor traffic, noise and fumes. Most are paved but some have been left unpaved for “eco-biking.” Many offer rare glimpses of Florida that snowbirds can’t be see by automobile.
Soon to be completed is the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail that will link St. Petersburg to the Atlantic coast, a distance of 250 miles.
Following are a few of the biking group’s favorites; all are highly-rated in various bike trail guide books.
Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail
This 53-mile trail in Pinellas County runs from St. Petersburg north to Tarpon Springs, and when extended, will be the western most segment of the 250-mile Coast-to-Coast Trail. It is a very popular urban trail with 75,000 users each month including bikers, walkers,
joggers, skateboarders, and yes, snowbirds.
The evolving loop trail around Pinellas links parks, coastal areas, residential neighborhoods,
charming old train depots, little towns and bigger cities.
Trail riders have the right-of-way which is a real advantage for long-distance bikers, and there are separate bike and pedestrian lanes. It also features repair stations with tools and air.
The Pinellas Trail has been named a member of the TrailTrain Hall of Fame based on its scenic value, use, amenities, historical significance, maintenance, and geography.
Withlacoochee State Trail
This 46-mile long trail runs through Citrus, Hernando, Pasco counties, following the Withlacoochee River and passing through the Withlacoochee State Forest. It is the
longest paved railtrail in Florida and a destination for many biking enthusiasts. Since
there are not many road crossings, it’s a popular place for recumbent cyclers, horseback riders, and yes, snowbirds too.
Food, drink and views of Old Florida aren’t hard to find when biking through Citrus Springs, Inverness, Floral City, Istachatta and Trilby.
The Legacy Trail
This 12.5-mile recreational trail runs between Sarasota’s Palmer Ranch and Venice. Old railroad crossings, signs and a vintage trestle bridge are nostalgic reminders of the past. Plans are underway to extend the trail to downtown Sarasota.
The trail boasts the Historic Venice Train Depot, important to the founding and development of Venice. It features a restored caboose and a bronze statue of Gunther Gebel-Williams, heralded as “The greatest wild animal trainer of all time.” The railroad was used by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
This trail has become one of the most enjoyable rides in Florida because one can cover over six miles without crossing a single road. It’s popular for its picturesque forests, waterways,
parks and rivers, as well as its history, shops, restaurants, wildlife and circus museums in Sarasota.
Shaded benches with drinking fountains are abundant. The trail’s numerous signs help to identify wildlife, plant life and history.
This barrier island near Ft. Myers is known for its seashells, gorgeous beaches and 22 miles of trails that ribbon through the tropical paradise. The trails parallel the main streets and are separated from traffic by grassy medians.
Though not railtrails, most are wide, smooth and well-marked. They will take you past
mansions on the Gulf of Mexico, the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, the Shell Museum, Bowman’s Beach and a pioneer cemetery.