Pinellas Trail Comes to Downtown St. Petersburg (FL)

St. Petersburg, FL, 10/1/2008: Officials from The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, will join St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and other elected officials on Saturday, October 4, to celebrate the grand opening of an expansion of the Pinellas Trail.

In 2005, TPL worked with then-landowner CSX Transportation Inc. to purchase for conservation a two-mile rail corridor that will bring the existing 34-mile Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail into downtown St. Petersburg, creating the opportunity for users to travel safely into and out of downtown on a paved urban trail. The event on Saturday celebrates the official opening of the trail expansion to the public.

The celebration will begin with an opening ceremony from 9:30 to 10:30 at the Trail Trestle Bridge at Tropicana Field, First Avenue South at 16th Street. Participants will then walk, run, or bike about a mile to the Saturday Morning Market at First Street.

“We are very excited to join the people of St. Petersburg in celebrating the opening of this corridor,” said Greg Chelius, director of TPL’s programs in Florida and the Caribbean. “The Pinellas Trail is one of the things that makes St. Petersburg such a wonderful place to live, work, and play. We were very pleased to be part of the partnership that brought the trail downtown.”

TPL ultimately sold the corridor to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which administered a federal appropriation to the City of St. Petersburg specifically for the acquisition. The City worked with Pinellas County to construct and manage the corridor as an addition to the Pinellas Trail. The expansion passes the historic Seaboard Coastline Train Depot that houses the St. Pete Clay Company. It then curves around Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, and joins the existing trail at 34th Street South.

The Pinellas Trail is an extremely popular urban trail extending from Tarpon Springs at the northernmost end of Pinellas County to 34th Street South in St. Petersburg at the southernmost end. Along its 34-mile length, it traverses eight towns and several waterways and connects a number of state and local parks, including Honeymoon Island State Park. Since its opening in 1990, the trail has been used by almost a million visitors each year.

The idea of turning railroad corridors into bicycle/pedestrian trails gained popularity in the 1980s after Congress passed the federal Rails to Trails Act, permitting railroad rights-of-way no longer needed for trains to be converted into recreational trails. With 397 miles of rail trails open and another 420 additional miles in planning or under construction, Florida is a nationally recognized leader in re-using unneeded rail corridors.

CSX Transportation, Inc. operates the largest railroad in the eastern United States with a 22,000-mile rail network, 1,750 miles of which are in Florida. CSX and The Trust for Public Land have worked together on four other “rail-trail” projects around the state. In Sarasota County, TPL purchased a 12-mile segment of the old CSX rail line that became the Legacy Trail and links Sarasota to Venice, Laurel and Nokomis. TPL purchased two railway corridors in Leesburg totaling 6.5 miles that will become part the Leesburg Greenway Trail, a system of interconnected trails and bikeways. In Gainesville, TPL acquired a two-mile corridor along 6th street that will connect the downtown area with employment centers, neighborhoods, and the University of Florida.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.5 million acres of land in 47 states. In Florida, TPL has protected more than 300 sites – over 200,000 acres at a market value of about $500 million. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.