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A Ride Across the Coast-to-Coast Connector – The Catalyst for Trails in Florida

by Lisa Portelli, BWCF Board Chair. 

It was only six short years ago that Bike/Walk Central Florida was asked to support the vision of a multi-use trail across Florida – the Coast-to-Coast Connector (C2C). We couldn’t wait and jumped on board to support this ambitious effort to create a continuous paved trail from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

In November of 2020, Pasco County officially closed another gap in the C2C with a ribbon cutting of the 2.4 mile Starkey Gap Trail connecting to the Pinellas Trail. To commemorate the occasion, three friends and I decided to ride the entire 250 miles of the trail corridor including the few unfinished segments because we simply couldn’t wait to try it.   I have just one message for folks who are interested – don’t wait for this incredible trail to be 100% completed – go now! 

I realize that many people are hesitant to ride on Florida roads or may have no desire to cycle the entire 250 miles. That doesn’t mean you can’t reap the rewards of cycling a section of the C2C Trail. Here’s a look at the C2C Trail from the seat of my bike after riding across the state:

St. Petersburg to Nobleton: 100 Miles of Uninterrupted Trail

The first 100 miles of connected trail from downtown St. Petersburg to Nobleton at West S.R. 50 are so pleasant to ride. The trail is comfortable without cars, offers a diversity of urban and rural settings, has great views and so many things to stop and do. The Pinellas Trail, the westernmost segment of the C2C, is along the old railroad corridor with relatively few road crossings. You can ride any section or all of it for a great day on your bike.  

A bicycle-pedestrian bridge on the Pinellas Trail, the first segment of the C2C

After the Pinellas Trail, we made a stop for the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Starkey Gap Trail. This was the final C2C section in Pasco County and a seamless connection from the Pinellas Trail to the Starkey Boulevard Trail. There we said hello to some familiar faces and initiators of the trail including former State Senator Andy Gardiner, Florida Greenways & Trails Foundation President Dale Allen and Florida Bicycle Association Executive Director Becky Afonso.

“Meet Me in the Middle” Clermont, Florida and West Orange Trails

We rolled on northwest, some along trails including the Suncoast Corridor and the Good Neighbor Trail, and across the largest remaining gap in the C2C through Sumter County. Here is my map with the routes I used to get around the gaps. 

If you prefer to skip the Sumter County/Green Swamp gap, you can pick up the South Lake Trail in beautiful “Meet Me in the Middle” Clermont, Florida, and ride a mix of urban and rural peaceful trail that becomes our own West Orange Trail.  The two trails combined create 36 miles of continuous Central Florida biking through Lake and Orange Counties.

The popularity of the West Orange Trail might be considered the only downside on this very busy section with so many runners, riders and rollers. My advice? Slow down and take it all in. The Saturday morning farmers market in Winter Garden is a must see and do if you can plan your ride around it. Either way, plan to stop in historic Winter Garden for lunch or dinner. If you plan to park at any West Orange trailheads on the weekend, arrive early to get a spot. (Thank you state, county and city leaders – if you build it, we WILL come in droves!).  

Central Florida to the East Coast

At the end of the West Orange Trail at Clarcona, plans are underway and in the design phase to complete the Pine Hills Gap to connect to the Seminole-Wekiva Trail. From there, the trail takes you through Seminole County in urban and suburban settings.  We stuck to the intended route of the Orange gap as closely as possible along Clarcona-Ocoee Rd. to north of Pine Hills before connecting to the Seminole-Wekiva Trail.

Another section-ride option is to start your ride in Debary. For those of you coming from Orlando, consider taking the SunRail train to Debary. There, you can pick up the trail and ride 55 miles all the way to Titusville. There is a tiny three-mile gap (almost completed!) out on Maytown Road between Osteen and Hwy 95 in Titusville, but it’s a relatively quiet, rural stretch. The long stretches of trail with very few busy road crossings make this an ideal section for anyone who wants to simply let the wind blow in their face and relax in the Zen of riding. 

If you ride out and back from Debary or Osteen, challenge yourself to get as far as Vergie’s on this stretch, near the Maytown Spur Trailhead.  Here’s the sign to look for but I don’t want to tell you more because checking out the unknown is part of the adventure.  Important to know that you can get water, drinks and food out in the middle of nowhere thanks to the very kind Vergie.  Hope you get to meet her….

The eastern end of the C2C terminates on the causeway connecting Titusville with Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Plans are to extend the paved path through the refuge to Canaveral National Seashore at Playalinda Beach. While there are no signs of work on this section yet, I am told it is planned for 2021. You can ride to the beach most times although the road closes for NASA launches and shifts.  We went straight from this spot to a lovely waterfront restaurant for a cold beer and great food.

John, Lisa, Mary and Ed at a segment end on the C2C

Very Few Gaps Remain

Yes, there are gaps but look how far it has come.  There is only about 35-40 miles to connect!

A few gaps remain, but completion inches closer

Green Swamp Gap: It is 28.5 miles by the most direct route between the end of the South Lake Trail and the Ridge Manor trailhead of the Withlacoochee State Trail.

Orange (Pine Hills-Ocoee) Gap: Presently no connection exists between where the West Orange Trail abruptly ends at US 441 adjoining Maitland Parkway to take it into Pine Hills and towards Ocoee. Design is underway to complete this section.

Maytown Road: Between the Gobblers Lodge trailhead along Maytown Rd. and Guise Rd., there is a three-mile gap that forces riders onto narrow Maytown Rd.

Here is my map with the routes I used to get around the gaps.  Experienced road cyclists will find these roads comfortable.  Touring cyclists who have found alternative options have used a ride-share app shuttle across the gaps or turned around to return to their start.  Another little tip to get to the start or return home at the end… we rented a truck one-way and found numerous companies that had  offices near the trailhead at either end for drop-off and pick-up.  

Lisa’s Map

 
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