TRAIL EXTENSION RECOMMENDED - Kristen Friend-Weaver

10/01/03

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted today to recommend a further study of an extension of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail known as route three revised. This extension would be a part of the Upper Tampa Bay Trial development that will ultimately connect the trail with the Suncoast Trail. WMNF’s Kristen Friend Weaver attended the meeting and has this report…

The Board’s approval of a further study of route three revised is a victory for supporters of the Trail who believe that extending it will create an invaluable public asset. The newly named Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department recommended the route after studying a variety of environmental, economic and quality of life issues. The Department also hosted a public meeting in which seventy-four percent of the participants either favored of did not oppose the potential path. The part of the route that has been under heaviest contention is a seven and a half mile stretch through Keystone and Odessa. Environmental groups want a route that will make the least possible impact on the environmentally sensitive Brooker Creek Headwater Preserve. Lynn McGarvy, speaking to the Board on behalf of the Environmental Land Acquisition Program, said that the decision should not be an emotional or political one…

But homeowners question why the trail must run through their backyards. Tim Porter said that the trail would travel about 1,000 feet through his property. Although Porter does not want to see the trail stopped, he feels that it should not run through the most valuable portion of his land. He urged the Commission to choose a route along Gunn Highway and to respect the safety of the children in his neighborhood…

Lorie Porter agreed…

However, others at the meeting who are familiar with other trail systems throughout the country, said that fears about safety are unfounded. McGarvy related her personal experience with walking trails in an attempt to assure those who were wary of living near a public trail…

Earl Wankton argued that the safety of area children would actually be compromised if the trail were not completed as proposed. He pointed out that without the trail, children would be at the mercy of highway traffic if they wanted to leave their neighborhoods for any reason…

The route chosen for further study takes advantage of abandoned rail corridors owned by Tampa Electric Company in order to minimize the cost of land acquisition. Charna Reese, who delivered the study to the Board on behalf of the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, said that any other alignment of the trail would greatly increase its price tag. When asked why the department was not recommending the trail run along Gunn Highway, Reese explained that would raise the price of construction by at least four million dollars…

The Board’s vote does not set any route for the trail in stone. Another study will be now done in order to make recommendations for the specifics of trail construction. If work on the trail extension proceeds as planned, the connection could be completed by 2010. For WMNF News, I’m Kristen Friend-Weaver.

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