Messenger Archive: Fall/Winter 1999
Friendship TrailBridge Claims Status as Longest Overwater Recreation Trail
by Frank Miller
The "old" Gandy Bridge over Tampa Bay is being rehabilitated for its new life as the world's longest over-the-water recreation trail.
The Friendship TrailBridge will open on December 11, 1999, with an official millennium event hosted by the Pinellas and Hillsborough Boards of County Commissioners and the Friendship Trail Corporation, a volunteer citizens' organization.
Families, bicyclists, runners, joggers, walkers and in-line skaters will then enjoy use of the facility free of charge and free of motorized vehicles.
Thanks to the 7,000 feet of wooden "catwalks" hanging off the sides of the bridge, fishermen will continue their traditional use of the bridge without interfering with those on the "roadway."
With this project, designers have created a model for new uses for obsolete traffic-bearing bridges, demonstrating what can be accomplished when citizens and government work together.
I was invited by FBA to write our story from the "inside" perspective, a sort of "we the people" point of view, naming names and sharing the experiences. It is a story of how a small group of citizens prevailed with an idea contrary to the plans of government.
In early 1997 The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) completed a new bridge over Tampa Bay and planned to demolish the adjacent 40-year old, 2.6 mile, "Old" Gandy Bridge it replaced. FDOT planned to demolish the middle two miles, convert 1500 feet at either end into fishing piers and dump the rubble into the bay, creating a reef. $6.7 million was allocated for the project.
Tampa citizen, Neil Cosentino, felt that the vacant bridge should remain standing as a potential evacuation route and tourist destination. Dinah Bencomo and I had seen the potential for the bridge as a recreation trail because there were no safe places in South Tampa to ride our bicycles.
Neil's invitation for like-minded citizens to contact him was printed in the Tampa Tribune in January 1997. Soon about a dozen of us from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who had never met before began to meet weekly as the "Committee to Save the Gandy."
The original committee members, volunteers who pioneered the effort, were Dinah Bencomo, Martha Bird, Tom Bryan, Lori Cohen, Michael Cruz, Neil Cosentino, Faye Culp, Lee Fox, John Jenkins, Fred King, Scott Rabun, Andrew Rizzo, Joe Wagner, Russell Williams and myself.
We were casual recreationalists, interested in the environment and civic matters and united in the belief that saving the bridge made good, common sense.
I was elected executive director and spokesperson, a position I thought at the time would last about six weeks.
Resistance to preserving the bridge was immediate from FDOT. They produced an estimate that $27.5 million would be necessary to retain the bridge in its entirety. This included rehabilitation of what they said was an old, crumbling bridge, permit requirements that would include installation of a $6 million stormwater drainage system, maintenance, security and escalated cost of removal of the entire bridge in 10 years.
Additionally, they said the price tag for the bridge would go up $16,000 for every month the demolition was delayed by efforts to preserve it. FDOT would consider sparing the bridge if Pinellas and Hillsborough counties would take ownership.
Hearing this, otherwise sympathetic elected officials felt the bridge would be too costly to preserve, and FDOT planned to start taking bids to raze the bridge in March, 1997.
We did our homework. We researched bridge inspection records and publicly asked FDOT how a bridge that was rated to carry 40 ton trucks in January could be in such poor condition to not support sneakers and bicycles in March, and for many years beyond? A petition to save the Gandy collected 3,000 signatures.
Committee members solicited statements of support from elected officials and environmental and recreational organizations and we included all that were received in our literature. We spoke to civic organizations and went on a few radio talk shows.
The South Tampa Chamber of Commerce, with the bridge in its "back yard," became the first entity to officially embrace our cause. Executive director Michael Cruz introduced me to chamber member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt, who listened to our story and held several fact-finding meetings involving FDOT, the permitting agencies and us.
Michael also introduced me to then Florida State Representative Faye Culp, who, upon hearing our position, immediately jumped in with our committee with both feet, heart and soul. We later learned Pinellas County also was interested in the Friendship Trail, as they had designs for an improvement of the causeway beach area on their side of the Gandy Bridge all along. Saving the bridge fit nicely with their plans.
Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd rallied her fellow commissioners to the idea, and she and Commissioner Platt started talking with each other across the bay.
The idea of the "Friendship Trail," a 12-mile recreational trail linking Weedon Island nature preserve in Pinellas County with Picnic Island in Tampa, across the 2.6 mile bridge as "The World's Longest Over-the-Water Recreational Trail," as we coined it, was born. So far nobody has disputed the claim.
Public opinion was ignited, but official government acceptance was not happening due to FDOT's resistance, their prohibitive price tag and some interesting permitting issues (more on that later).
We approached the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and through that body FDOT agreed to delay the demolition bid date until after the MPO's next meeting on May 1, 1997. This provided the legitimacy of a governmental body consideration and time for answers to our growing questions. The paramount question: was the bridge worth saving?
At the May 1 meeting, another 45-day extension to the awarding of demolition bids was secured, and the Hillsborough County MPO agreed to ask that the County Public Works Dept. evaluate the condition of the bridge. The conclusion by the County Structural Engineer was our first big break: cost to save the bridge was probably well within the $6.7 million allocated to destroy it.
Media coverage was immediately more positive. The Tampa Tribune began a series of editorials in support of our cause. They, the St. Petersburg Times and other publications printed over 100 articles about the effort to save the bridge.
All four of Tampa Bay's television network affiliates called for interviews and started to follow the story on the local news. Our committee to Save the Gandy was in high gear in late May and early June 1997 to find a jurisdiction interested and capable of ownership.
Tom Bryan and I made presentations to the City of St. Petersburg Council, Pinellas Board of County Commissioners, Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners, Pinellas MPO, Hillsborough MPO and Tampa City Council. Thousands of our "Action Alerts" were printed and distributed, asking citizens to urge their city and county legislators to support local government ownership of the bridge.
Representative Culp had a well-publicized "event" on the vacant bridge for bicyclists, skaters, joggers and pedestrians and we did all we could to attract public and media attention in both counties to our cause.
Our momentum was stopped by a series of chilling announcements from FDOT. They had now received demolition bids with one that was quite low, and announced they would award the contract to the winning bid at noon on June 19. We were warned that any effort to interfere with the process after that award could have serious consequences.
The Secretary for FDOT District 7 required that Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, or any other potential owner of the bridge, put $3 million "in the bank" to ensure that if they did not award the bids on June 19 and had to rebid, compensation would be available should a later winning bid come in higher.
They also warned that any owner of the bridge must accept the liability of having to demolish the bridge when it became necessary, placing the figure at $9.1 million in ten years.
FDOT produced a June 6 tabulation which now set the cost to preserve the bridge at $23.6 million.
The atmosphere at our next two meetings was grim. Our only agenda item was "what do we do next?" We had a few answers. We countered FDOT with a cost tabulation at $3 to $4.5 million based on FDOT's own actual winning bid which involved preserving the "tips" of the bridge as fishing piers.
We extended that section of the bid to the preservation of the entire bridge, and we incorporated Hillsborough County Public Works Dept.'s estimates. Scott Rabun volunteered and overnighted our 3,000 signed petitions to Governor Chiles.
Finally, it came down to this: at their regularly scheduled meetings, the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners would vote on June 17 whether to own the bridge, and the Hillsborough board would vote on June 18. It was assumed that both counties would have to vote favorably to avoid the demolition award on June 19 at noon.
There was a flurry of last-minute maneuvering. The Hillsborough board faxed the governor requesting intervention to assist in saving the bridge. On June 17, the day of the Pinellas County commissioners' vote, the governor's office was on a 3-way conversation with FDOT attorneys and Representative Culp to try to hammer out a solution to the prohibitive requirement that the counties put up $3 million.
They arrived at an agreement that would satisfy all interests, and now it could be up to the counties to freely vote without that prohibitive requirement. The June 18 headline in the St. Petersburg Times:
"Pinellas votes yes for Gandy."
"Despite fears of unknown costs," the story continued, "Pinellas commissioners voted 5-0...to team with Hillsborough County and transform the old Gandy Bridge into a bike and pedestrian path across Tampa Bay."
"Counties bridge gap, save Gandy," exulted the front page headline in the Tampa Tribune on June 19. The article continued: "A grass-roots fight to save the old Gandy Bridge from the wrecking ball and turn it into a recreation trail ends in victory.
"The [Hillsborough County] Commission's vote came just 17 hours before the Florida Department of Transportation was to award the contract to demolish...."
We won! There were standing ovations following the voting by our new heroes, the commissioners of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Subsequently, FDOT rounded off the funds available to demolish the bridge to $7 million and made it available for the rehabilitation of the bridge.
Most of the costly permit requirements previously thought to prohibit saving the bridge have been dropped. A "Roadway Transfer" agreement transferred ownership of the bridge from the state to Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.
The Committee to Save the Gandy formed the "Gandy Bridge and Friendship Trail Corporation, a Florida non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation presently consisting of 64 volunteers. We are recognized by resolution of Hillsborough and Pinellas Boards of County Commissioners.
Neil was the only original member to leave us, resigning to pursue his own visions for the bridge, which are different than those of the new corporation. We intend to fulfill our vision of a bridge as a recreation trail that would be safe, clean, free of user fees and no cost to local taxpayers.
Our mission is to fund the operation and maintenance of the bridge, which is estimated to be $308,000 per year. We hope to accomplish much of this by soliciting Tampa Bay entities to purchase banners on the new period-style light poles on the bridge. The banners would carry their logos while being decorative and festive.
The bridge has been renamed "Friendship TrailBridge" to agree in function, concept and name with the Friendship Trail. A Master Concept Plan for the 12-mile Friendship Trail has been approved by both counties.
Rehabilitation work began in spring `99, relying on the $7 million in state capital funds originally intended for demolition. (P.S.: there is $1.2 million left over! Half of it is earmarked for the initial operation & maintenance costs until the fundraising efforts begin to be effective, and the other half is being held in contingency.)
A "Bridge Oversight Committee" was formed as a policy body. This committee consists of Pinellas County Commissioners Barbara Sheen Todd and Robert Stewart, Hillsborough County Commissioners Jan Platt and Chris Hart, Florida State Senator Jim Sebesta, Florida State Representative John Morroni, and me as Friendship Trail Corp.'s president and vice president Tom Bryan.
It is unique that several governments and citizens have joined in this manner. We know of no precedent. I can tell you that it has been a pleasure to be invited to work with our elected officials and their appointed engineering, planning and legal staffs. They are all very professional, competent people and have shown a lot of patience and courtesy.
This is especially important because we citizens have found that while we want to "move ahead and get it done," the governments must adhere to protocols, laws and statutes.
I can also say that I'm personally proud to be one of our organization of citizens, all volunteers, who have given whatever we can in the form of time, talent and even money in support of this effort. We all enjoy it when our fellow citizens say "Thank you for helping save the bridge," which they often do.
We remember how we began, meeting every week inside the wooden Gandy Civic Center where we didn't know how to turn on the A/C or the ceiling fans, and how we had to stop talking when the trains passed through about 30 yards away. Now we have monthly meetings, alternating between Tampa and St. Petersburg, and our Tampa meetings are in Hillsborough's prestigious County Center building.
We've remained cohesive for two years, still united in the same cause. We're actually friends who truly respect each other. Our vision and mission statements are as appropriate today as when we wrote them two years ago.
We know that we've accomplished something remarkable. We are grateful to the many businesses and individuals, too numerous to mention, that have contributed both in-kind and monetary donations to help us stay afloat.
We're a business with similar expenses of any business, and we've been "on a shoe string" so we can be available for the push to raise the funds to operate and maintain the bridge. We're also proud that Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, known to have not always seen eye to eye in the past (i.e. the "water wars") are in agreement on this one in a true spirit of friendship. The two counties, the City of Tampa, our Friendship Trail Corporation and even FDOT are now cooperating fully in the interest of the success of the bridge and Friendship Trail.
Finally, two stories I promised about permitting issues:
(1) FDOT built the new bridge in 1997 without being required to put in a stormwater collection system. Another new bridge nearby, the Bayside Bridge in Pinellas County, was built with such a system.
The idea is that oils and rubber collecting on the bridge would run off into the bay when it rains unless it is collected and piped to off-bridge holding ponds. It was ruled that if the old bridge was not demolished as planned, a $6 million collection system would have to be retrofitted on any one of the three bridges as mitigation.
When we asked why, it was explained that the presence of three bridges instead of two would have an additional shading effect to the bay bottom than the planned two bridges.
The shading would affect sea grasses and the marine environment. We argued, without success at the time, that there were no sea grasses as the water was too deep and cloudy (we had divers go down and shoot videos).
(2) As part of the original plan to demolish the bridge, FDOT was required to build a reef near the bridge with the rubble. When the bridge was saved, the Army Corps of Engineers, citing mitigation requirements, held FDOT in violation for failure to build the reef in accordance with the original permit.
With no rubble immediately available, the project would cost over $1 million of the available $7 million to comply.
We argued that the idea of a reef was driven by the need for a place to put the rubble from the demolished bridge.
Further, by not demolishing the bridge, a 40-year reef (the bridge itself) was actually preserved. Our divers found numerous stone crab holes and much marine life around every piling.
The Corps then came up with a solution that earned the recommendation of our environmental committee. They would instead implement an erosion project for nearby Picnic Island in Tampa, which was eroding at 20-30 ft. per year.
Rocks, barriers and newly-planted mangrove plants and sea oats are now in place at a cost of about $250,000. We think of it this way: saving the Gandy Bridge may have also saved Picnic Island!
Go to www.friendshiptrail.com for more information.
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Hells Canyon/Imnaha River Trail, Joseph, Oregon
by Ron Smith
I knew I was on to something the moment I walked into this tiny bike shop in Joseph, Oregon.
The proprietor could have been Bruce Martin's brother. I felt like I was entering a 1969-era time warp as I scanned a collection of mix/match assembled bikes, and a few dusty "new" hybrids over on the side.
I asked about the "Canyon Ride" offered on the painted outdoor sign.
"We really don't ride the Canyon this late in the year; it gets pretty hot down there," was the reply. (It was the first week of June.) But upon hearing I was from Florida and used to the heat, the proprietor told me to meet him at the shop at 5:00 the following morning.
The previous warm afternoon yielded to a mountain climate morning. At 4:45 a.m., in my riding shorts and jersey, I shivered in the 40-degree air. We loaded a 1965 VW VanCamper for the trip to the trailhead, 39 miles away.
As we drove up to what looked like the edge of the North American continent, my fearless leader jumped out, stretched his arms over his head and yelled, "Welcome to my backyard!"
We were looking into Hell's Canyon from Buckhorn Overlook, elevation 5,333 feet.
"Now tell me what all those springy-things do on your bike," my guide said as we geared and mounted.
At the trailhead I peered over the bluff into the gorge to the Snake River below. We began our ride on an old cattle road, opening barbed fences every 100 yards for the first mile. The trees were mixed, broken and twisted from winds that must come off this ridge. Sage was all around, and the hills were rich green with knee-high summer growth.
Taking the lead, I dropped off a gentle downhill trail. Rocks hiding in the grass clumps along the cattle track surface kept our speed below 15 mph.
We wound around various micro-canyons, all leading out to my right to the "big one." The route grew steadily steeper and narrower_no more cattle tracks.
"How far do you want me to lead?" I asked.
"Stop before you cross the stream," he replied. "It's ahead a bit, a little more than eight miles."
He wasn't kidding. My fingers ached from clamping the brake levers, and I've never felt brake fade that severe; it felt like my whole front fork was spreading outward from heat stress.
After several tricky downhill stream crossings, we emerged onto a rolling meadow alongside the Snake River. We had dropped over 4,300 feet, never going up a hill. Now we had a smooth dirt and stone singletrack ahead alongside the river.
We passed a few 1800-era deserted mine shafts to the junction of the Imnaha River_our (only) path out. This was wild territory.
Our biggest concern was rattlers. "Watch where you step" was the word for the day.
The Imnaha is wide and scenic. The Forest Service maintains a superb multi-use trail along this tributary of the Snake. In places, the trailbed is blown out of sheer rock canyon walls_and frequently is washed out despite major efforts to keep the trail open. Now all uphill, the ride for the next seven miles was sheer excitement. This winding, rough, rock-strewn trail challenged every skill I had. Although the trail climbed steadily, each curve and hill offered another vista and unbelievable singletrack adventure, including a trail tunnel. (Many cyclists drive to the town of Imnaha just to ride this segment of trail).
After 35 miles, we were back on a gravel road, tired from the steady 20-mile climb from the Snake River. In local fashion, we arrived in Imnaha, leaned our bikes against the general store (the only store) and walked inside. The cold beer at the counter was fantastic. But how would we get home?
"Don't worry," my guide assured me. "They all know me here. Someone will give us a lift back to Joseph soon."
After an hour, we were in the back of a pick-up, the rest of the climb out of Hell's Canyon courtesy of a combustion engine. I heard the driver exclaim to my new ride leader friend, "Why do you do this to these poor tourists?" He turned and we both just smiled.
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Race on Our Trails or Not?
by Chris Borzych
In the Spring of 1999, after five years of debate, board members of the Ocala Mountain Bike Association decided to support Race Promotions' "Gone Riding" in having a NORBA sanctioned race on our trail system at Santos.
Our hesitation revolved on the impact that such a race would have on our trail system. Other concerns were that we would have sufficient trails for a race while still allowing the general public to enjoy our trail system. Once we were able to make decisions about those issues we still had to deal with the Greenways Commission, Marion County Parks and Recreation, the road department, county commissioners and sheriff's and health departments.
All in all, local government was easy to work with since we had established a good reputation with them over the years. It took about a week to walk a permit through a who's who in Marion County Government. Gone Riding, the race promoter, was responsible for getting insurance and paying any permit fees. Our responsibility was to assist in the venture and provide the trails and support.
The deal we struck was simple: we got the "gate" and revenues from food and beverages etc. at our tent. The race promoter kept the race fee.
We worked with the road department and law enforcement to block necessary roads. We charged $3.00/car on Saturday and $3.00/person on race day. In the future we will charge $3.00/person both days.
In two days we generated about $3,000, and cleared about $2,000.
Most of our fears about trail impact were not realized. In a few spots there was some damage from braking too hard into the corners.
Since we routed the trail over a 10-mile track there was little, if any, of the repeat rider damage you see on a 5-mile loop. We ran most of the trails in reverse to reduce impact. The 600+ riders actually helped pack-in some loose areas. We feel confident that our system could withstand one race of this type per year.
We decided to work with Gone Riding to have a Fall Series Race on our trails in place of the Spring Series, anticipating clearing about $3,000 since the Fall Series attracts more riders.
All the money goes back into our trail system.
Food preparation is too much work and the profit not worth the manpower. We will continue to sell beverages since the profit is easy with little preparation.
We were overwhelmed with the number of cars we had to park in the race area and on the roads. Room needed for parking far exceeded our expectations.
We may ask the promoter about a cut of the race fee since we provide all the course marshals and so much support.
We will route the race on different trails where possible to reduce any damage from repetitive riding.
If you are contemplating a race on a trail system in your area, go ahead if you need the funding to run your organization. Have a minimum of 15 miles of trail to reduce rider impact. Let your authorities know that gate fees will be used to improve and maintain recreation for the general public so that everyone benefits.
Also, if you have any road closures make sure you attempt to notify the residents surrounding the area.
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by Bruce Martin
It's a beautiful morning as we start our ride; warm but not yet oppressively hot and with a damp woodsy smell as we enter the forest.
As my legs loosen up I push harder, looking for that place where speed meets the limits of my bike handling skills, where my level of fitness meets my pain threshold.
The trail is empty except for the five of us. The open woods provide excellent visibility should anyone else happen to appear on the trail.
A deer bounds off to my left as I scan the trail winding through the pine woods ahead. The open trail invites me to push harder, to attack the sandy hills that try to slow me down, to lean hard in the corners and to shift up and pedal on the downhill sections.
There is a poetry, a spirituality, here that I am searching for: a place I have been before where sound, light and motion meld together with every tingling cell in my body.
It is speed that brings me to this place and it is decidedly different from the feelings generated by a more moderately paced exploratory ride, a type of riding I also happen to enjoy. I don't see speed as an end in itself but as a means to attain a heightened state of awareness and to increase the fun factor of any ride. It can be employed wherever trail conditions and one's abilities are appropriate for a faster rate of travel. The trick is in knowing when it is safe to travel at a higher rate of speed.
As the mountain bike community steps up to throw their hat (helmet?) in the political ring along with other land use groups, we need to present our activity as environmentally sensible and socially benign.
It will only take a few incidents of other trail users scared out of their wits or, worse yet, injured by an out-of-control cyclist to nullify all our efforts to gain access to single track trails.
We need to set an example and, when necessary, speak out when someone is out of control or possibly endangering others.
Yet we also need to keep in mind the benefits of speed: the increase in ones level of fitness and the thrill of pushing the limits of our abilities.
There is no other unpaved trail activity that can come close to providing the level of fitness of mountain biking. Sitting on the back of a horse or plodding along by foot don't even begin to bring about the elevated heart rate and release of endorphins that is one of the prime benefits of our sport.
Just remember to stay in control and be courteous to other trail users. That way we will all be able to continue to shred lightly.
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Cooperation Moves Okeechobee Scenic Trail Forward
by Ben Walker
In an unprecedented spirit of cooperation and funding by the Florida Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection, Army Corp of Engineers, and numerous local counties and municipalities, final plans for implementing the construction of the Florida National Scenic Trail - Lake Okeechobee Segment (LOST) are nearing completion.
The trail will add nearly 120 miles to the 1,300 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail network that stretches from the Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades to the tip of the Panhandle at the Gulf Islands National Seashore along the Florida/Alabama state border.
The trail is envisioned to completely circle Lake Okeechobee. It will run primarily along a path atop the Herbert Hoover Dike and in right-of-ways along US 441/98, US 27, and SRs 25, 715 and 880, where they are in close proximity to the lake.
The dike is approximately 34 feet high and offers many viewing vantage points of the lake and the surrounding environment. Parts of the trail will either be constructed of limestone, asphalt, or other materials suitable for a variety of users.
Preliminary design calls for more than 20 trail heads along the route in popular destinations in parks, campsites or access convenient to nearby cities and downtowns.
Most trail heads will include amenities such as shaded areas, restrooms and picnic tables. Many information kiosks will be placed along the trail. There are plans for improved campground sites, parking, boat ramps, pedestrian bridges and a visitors' center.
The western half of the trail, from the Okeechobee/Martin County line to just east of Clewiston, is currently to be built in three phases.
Phase one concentrates trail improvements from the city of Okeechobee west alongside the lake through Moore Haven and Clewiston.
The improvements should eliminate the trail breaks at the three main lock structures and canal crossings and create two main trail heads in Clewiston and O'Kissimmee.
Phase two involves paving a 6.5 mile segment from Buckhead Ridge to Taylor Creek and construction of a third primary trail head at Brighton/Lakeport and a secondary trail head at the Sportsman Village location.
Third phase improvements currently consist of completing new primary and secondary trail heads and constructing some pedestrian bridge structures.
Construction along the eastern half of the trail will continue the smooth continuity of the trail around the lake. This portion of construction also includes many attractive recreational elements such as shelters atop the Hoover Dike, a Visitor's Center near the South Bay R.V. park, an Interpretive Center at the Pahokee Marina and Campground and expansion of many campsites.
Many of the shelters and trail heads will also be lighted and provide grills and fishing piers.
For more information on the L.O.S.T. project please call either Susan King, FDOT District One Project Manager at (941) 519-2394 or Kent Rice, FDOT District 4 Project Manager at (954) 486-1400.
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Once in a Lifetime Recumbent Tour
by Bud Elder
For many years I have wanted to ride to my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, on my recumbent.
I wanted to wait 'til I retired so as to have unlimited time to do a trip of this type. Dutch [van der Kuyp] and I were talking one day and he mentioned that he had been thinking about doing a ride to Toronto so we decided to combine the trips into one.
We tried to plan our departure in early May so as not to be too cold when we got to Canada and knowing it could be warm on the return trip to Florida.
This was to be a once in a lifetime cycling tour. Of the 82 days, I spent a total of 67 on my bike peddling 4,715 miles from Cape Coral to Toronto to Springfield and back to Cape Coral by the way of the Natchez trace.
The shortest days were 40-45 miles in the mountains, to my longest day of 134 miles back in Florida.
Dutch and I began our preparations for this long trip with a few short trips to Myakka State Park and Highlands Hammock in Sebring. These three day turn-around rides gave us the needed insights to what we might expect and require on a much longer self-contained camping cycling tour to Toronto and back.
We began our long trek on May 2 using Adventure Cycling's touring maps. We found them to be very detailed and accurate for the first week through Florida. However, these maps were planned for a more back-road scenic route whereas we were planning a more direct route north.
After reaching the Georgia state line, we decided to take state roads that took us through more towns and past more food stores and shopping centers.
My fondest memories are of the wonderful, generous and thoughtful people we met along the way. Every rest stop or grocery stop evolved into conversation with people who were interested in our recumbents, where we were going and where we started.
Some people were quite surprised when they asked my age. On one occasion we met a motorcyclist in Virginia at a convenient store/gas station who, after some conversations, invited us to camp in his garage and share a home-cooked dinner.
After showers and a delicious meal, we enjoyed a very pleasant and long evening of conversation.
Just as a storm was threatening, another couple in Illinois offered the use of their office to sleep in and barn in which to park our vehicles.
After we "borrowed" their shower, they drove us a local restaurant for a good meal and gave us a car tour of the Amish countryside.
Many other times we were invited to tent behind the homes of people whom we had just met and were offered the use of their lawn hoses for our showers and clothes washing. We had many such cold showers.
The prettiest scenery along the entire route was from northern Georgia into Canada as our route took us along the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains.
The climbs through these mountains were difficult but worth the breathtaking view of the valleys below. The descents of up to 45 mph were thrilling even though many times I used my brakes.
One awesome sight was seeing Williamsport, PA, and the valley below from an overlook reached after a 30-minute climb.
We encountered all types of road surfaces from the smoothest asphalt with wide shoulders to constructions areas with potholes and concrete barriers. We experienced some rainy days but only one, in Leesburg, VA, where we had to lay over because a bad storm was approaching. All in all the weather wasn't too bad.
We also had a fun visit with Jack Duchesne (a Caloosa member) in Niagara Falls, Canada. He invited us to dinner at their home and we stayed overnight at his mobile home near the river. We spent one day with Jack taking in the sights of his city.
The beautiful city of Toronto, the cleanest city I've ever visited, was a great experience. Dutch and his family took us to see some of the sights.
From the 1,465 foot observatory level of the CN Tower we had an impressive view of the entire downtown area and the shore line of Lake Ontario.
Other visits were to the underground mall_a small city on its own_and a tour of the Casa Loma, a medieval castle built in 1911 on the brow of a hill overlooking Toronto.
On the way back we visited my aunt in Dayton, OH. Then we went on to Springfield, IL, for a visit with my brother and his family.
It was my turn to be tour guide as I showed Dutch Lincoln's tomb, stopped at Lincoln's home and drove to New Salem where Lincoln lived for six years while he studied law.
We then we headed south toward the Natchez Trace. We began the trip with many cool days and evenings but soon the temperatures warmed up to the mid 90s as we got into Kentucky and Tennessee.
At 3,450 miles we pulled into the visitor center at Tupelo, MS, where Dutch told me that the heat and humidity were getting to be too much for him. He decided to take a bus back home.
But this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me so I continued solo, finished riding the Trace then headed back to Cape Coral.
I was very pleased with the performance of my recumbent and B.O.B. trailer. I had a major problem with my rear suspension in Ohio, but managed to take care of it with a roadside repair.
Two spokes broke, one in Illinois and one in Kentucky. I finally had them replaced in Tupelo.
My rear tire is still the original, having had only one flat. The front wheel wasn't so lucky, with a number of flats and one tire replaced due to a blowout.
The fairing was of great help during the rains we encountered and downhill runs were considerably faster due to the aerodynamics of it. My trailer handled very well hauling all my camping gear and food.
All in all, my 87-day cycling adventure was very exciting and rewarding. Achieving my long-time goal of doing a long distance tour gave me a great sense of personal accomplishment. Plus I saw a large part of our great country as it only can be seen on a bicycle and met so many wonderful and helpful people along the way.
Our overnights at many fire stations, police stations and several EMS facilities (including several_voluntary experiences_at local jails) were much appreciated and the personnel were always so generous and helpful to us.
I've been asked many times if I would plan another such trip. The answer is "Probably unlikely." However, I am very thrilled at having completed the entire planned route.
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Florida's Green Necklace of Trails to Add Quality to Recreation in Central Florida
by Herb Hiller
(reprinted from the RTC newsletter with the author's and RTC's permission)
Early in the new century, cooperating counties will drape a green necklace of trails through Central Florida that will add greatly to Floridians' quality of life while challenging I-4's iconic theme parks as a new way for residents and outsiders to think about the region. The green necklace will connect some 300 miles of multi-use trails_potentially 400 to 500 miles including spurs. Some sections already in place draw between a quarter million and a million users a year.
Essential parts of this emerging system are urban trails and pathways. By connecting urban trails to a far rural network, the system will give city dwellers direct access to countryside. Until now suburbs alone claimed this advantage.
"When trails help city people out their front doors safely into a green and garden world, we make cities, with all their cultural advantages, far more desirable places to live," says Jeff Ciabotti, Senior Program Manager, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Florida Field Office.
"But trails_especially urban connections to regional trail systems_become more than a source of recreation," Jeff says. "They become urban magnets that match in importance the land acquisitions under P-2000 and Florida Forever for curbing sprawl."
The system will also open a window on rural Florida, compelling for tourists who increasingly seek close touch with nature.
So far, potential linkages in the necklace include the West Orange Trail; the Lake Minneola Trail in Lake County; the General James A. Van Fleet State Rail-Trail through Polk, Lake and Sumter counties; the Withlacoochee State Trail through Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties; the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway through Marion and Putnam counties; trails through the Ocala National Forest, the Cross-Seminole Trail and, again in Orange County, the Cady Way Trail.
Additional trails already underway or advanced in planning include the Little Econ Greenway in Orange County; the South Lake Trail and Tav-Lee Trails in Lake County; a network of trails in Volusia County and the Seminole-Wekiva Trail. Together, with a few missing links, they will complete the system.
Spurs will include the Nature Coast Greenway through Dixie, Levy and Gilchrist counties; the Palatka-Lake Butler Rail-Trail through Putnam, Clay, Bradford and Union counties, and trails through Brevard and Osceola counties.
Public agencies at all levels and private interests are involved, most recently in the metro-Orlando area under leadership of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.
Coordinated planning makes the necklace both do-able and highly promising for re-characterizing Florida green.
Initiators of the system include the Office of Greenways and Trails, the Division of Recreation & Parks and, of course, RTC's Florida Field Office with the support of local trail groups and thousands of individual trail enthusiasts throughout Florida.
The system will include bridges and at least one tunnel. It makes use of abandoned rail corridors, sections of the decommissioned Cross Florida Barge Canal and logging roads.
A Seminole County section will include a rail-with-trail. A section through the Ocala National Forest will carry users close by one of the two last barge ferries operating in Florida.
The system will run through rural regions hungry for tourism of any sort and others craving diversity. It will pass on earthen embankments through swamp and across an I-75 overpass disguised as the elevated rise of a forest path.
It will connect with equestrian centers, sinkholes, caves, 40-foot high limestone cliffs of the Ocala Hard Rock Mountain Bike Park, ghost towns and places to park your helmet overnight from primitive campsites to B&Bs.
Commuters today use urban sections of the system-in-the-making _the West Orange and Cady Way Trails, for example, in metro Orlando. Students cycle along the Lake Minneola Trail to classes at Lake Sumter Community College in Clermont; others, between Oviedo and Winter Springs to schools along the Cross Seminole Trail.
Still others by 2002 will connect from the Cady Way across the Little Econ Greenway from Winter Park to the University of Central Florida.
In the coming decade a springs-to-springs section in Volusia County will connect Gemini Springs with DeLeon Springs while, linked in a plan with Seminole County, a loop will encompass Lake Monroe.
Big sections already in place include the 29-mile General James A. Van Fleet State Rail-Trail and the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail.
User numbers argue the case that when trails connect cities with country, urban living becomes more appealing.
City dwellers on short bursts for fitness and on routine household chores will swell numbers of users on the new system as they have on the Pinellas Trail which today counts well more than a million users a year. Orange County's West Orange and Cady Way trails, albeit so far unconnected, total up a million; the Cross-Seminole is nearing a quarter million.
"The beauty of this growing system," says Ken Bryan, Director, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Florida Field Office, "is that the skills, the funding sources and the commitment to see it through are all in place."
Dedicated TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act For the 21st Century) sources of funding for trails and greenways already exist. Between TEA-21 and the new Florida Forever program the money is available for acquiring corridor as well as for building the trails.
Because trails provide non motorized transportation links between cities and country, they're favored with extra funding in Florida Forever and directly through the Florida Communities Trust with their new emphases on improving the quality of urban life by creating "trail systems."
Priorities in the trust also favor connecting initial trails to build bigger systems, which is exactly what the green necklace does.
Recent meetings with multi-county trail agencies in Seminole County and then hosted by the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council in Orlando are advancing a big-picture approach to the system.
Effective as the system is becoming for combating sprawl, the green necklace will also represent Florida to the world in an important new way through vacationing recreationists.
Visitors of all ages touring Florida for a week at a time without cars and outdoors beyond reach of billboards represent a powerful alternative image for state tourism.
The green necklace is no skewing of tourism merely to reach changing markets. In the first instance it's a way for Floridians to enjoy safely what others, who take more risks, have enjoyed while cycling Florida on back roads or jogging with traffic.
But most Floridians first come here as tourists. They find that real-world lifestyles include not just the beach but also shores of lakes and streams and canopied cuts through tropical forests as ways to enjoy Florida's places.
Changing markets suggest that locals as well as travelers of all ages are looking for recreation that puts them more in touch with places un-trimmed by tinsel.
Floridians by their demand for the kind of recreation the green necklace represents are anticipating where the market is trending. They're not only making their own cities more desirable. They're showing tourists a way to enjoy what makes Florida special rather than making Florida something it's not to attract them.
For more information on this emerging system of trails & greenways please contact the RTC Florida Field Office, 850-942-2379 or e-mail email@example.com.
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