The 38.2 mile Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail is an older sibling of Jacksonville's Baldwin Rail Trail and S-Line Urban Greenway. Like the S-Line Urban Greenway, it travels through some of the most urban areas of Florida. Unlike the S-Line, it's provided an economic boost to the communities it penetrates and serves.
The Orange Belt Railroad during the 19th century. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/3533
On May 1, 1888, Petrovich A. Demensheff of St. Petersburg, Russia completed the Orange Belt Railway between St. Petersburg and Sanford. At 117.68 miles, it was the longest narrow gauge railroad in the country. Carrying passengers and serving the citrus industry, this railroad led to the development of Pinellas county. Over the course of the 20th century, Pinellas boomed to become Florida's most urbanized county. Despite its urbanization, a lack of a significant industrial base led to the abandonment of track by owner CSX during the mid-1980s.
The vision for the utilization of this abandoned rail corridor came from Bert Vallery in 1983, after his son died in a bicycle accident. Six years later, Pinellas County voters approved a local option, one-cent sales tax increase to finance the trail, now named after a former Pinellas County administrator, and additional infrastructure improvements. The first five mile stretch of trail opened in December 1990.
Today, the Pinellas Trail holds the distinction of being recognized as one of the 10 best trails in the country by Rollerblade Inc. magazine. It averages over 100,000 users each month tying parks, residential neighborhoods, several downtowns and scenic coastal areas together.
The Pinellas Trail mixed with an active CSX rail line in downtown Clearwater.
According to Richard Valentine, a volunteer for the Public Relations Advisory Action Committee in Dunedin, the Pinellas Trail has provided an economic boost for communities along its path. In a 2014 RailstoTrails.org interview about another proposed trail in his community, Valentine stated,
“The trail system will definitely have an impact on the area in terms of the ‘quality of life’ quotient. We [Dunedin PRAAC] man a tent at the Dunedin Downtown Green Market.... I've talked to people from as far away as Massachusetts and Oregon who have come to Dunedin specifically because they heard of the trail. I've also talked to people who have recently moved to Dunedin, and invariably one of the selling points [for choosing Dunedin] has been the trail...in addition to the beaches and the quaint downtown. The existence of the trail has played a major part in Dunedin becoming a destination...."
Left: Map of the Orange Belt Railway between Sanford and St. Petersburg. Right: Map of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail.
Last, the Pinellas Trail is a testament to bicycle and pedestrian safety. Multiple pedestrian bridges, overpasses and underpasses are located along its path to keep riders out of traffic. In addition, regular patrolling is carried out by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Pinellas County Park Rangers and the Auxillary Rangers.
Experiencing the benefits of the Pinellas Trail in person quickly makes a Jaxson wonder why can't something like this become a part of Jacksonville's landscape? While the Baldwin Trail is nice and the S-Line Urban Greenway takes you through a few interesting places, one needs a little extra security and both would greatly benefit from connectivity to the rest of Jacksonville.
Rail Trails in Jacksonville
Jacksonville Baldwin Rail Trail
A 14.5-mile, 12' wide paved trail running from Imeson Road in Jacksonville to the Town of Baldwin.
S-Line Urban Greenway
4.5-mile, 12' wide paved trail, appropriately in the shape of an "S", running from Mrytle Avenue to Gateway Town Center through Jacksonville's Northside.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at email@example.com
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