Saturday, March 12, 2016


Across the country, local efforts are turning former railroad lines into hiking and biking trails for community use.  A quick search of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy web site listed over 100 such trails in the state of Florida. Tim and I tried three of these trails in the past two weeks we've stayed at Punta Gorda.

We no longer have our speedy, narrow-tire road bikes.  Two years ago I broke a couple ribs when another cyclist and I collided in the passage underneath Memorial Bridge in Arlington, VA.  That, plus numerous scraped knees and elbows, as well as a spectacular spill over the top of a guardrail in Leesburg, VA, convinced me that I am not as young as I used to be.

So I sold my bike on Craigslist and Tim gave his to our son.  Instead of eighteen gears, the cruiser bikes we recently purchased have only seven and the broad seats cushion my broadening bottom much better than the narrow saddle of a road bike.  Our new bikes are perfect for trying out the local bike trails.

Trains once rattled pass the Punta Gorda Depot, the sole survivor of the six depots built in 1928 by the Atlantic Coast Line.  It's now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

Its segregated ticket windows and waiting rooms are no longer filled with passengers bound for distant places.  

Today it hosts a small museum and the railroad's right-of-way has been transformed into the city's Linear Park.  

We rode Linear Park's paved trail several times through the historic neighborhoods of Punta Gorda on our way to Fishermen's Village at the harbor.

Further afield was the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail, a rail bed built by the Charlotte Harbor & Northern Line between the years of 1905-1907 to connect Arcadia, FL with Gasparilla Island.  

It once transported passengers, phosphate, livestock and locally-grown crops to the docks at Boca Grande. Now an 8-mile stretch of its track has been converted for use by hikers and cyclists.  

Tim and I appreciated its flat terrain of upland and riparian habitats as well as its off-road safety.

Even though the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail (shown in brown on this map) links with the Boca Grande Bike Path on Gasparilla Island, we left that 6-mile trail for another day.  

I didn't want to brave biking across the narrow causeway that connects the mainland with the island so I persuaded Tim to drive to Boca Grande where we unloaded our bikes at Gasparilla Island State Park at the southern tip of the island.  

Because it was spring break, we found the trail crowded with golf carts; perhaps it's heavily used all the time.  Anyway, we dodged through the melee and made it safely back to our starting point.  

Rails-to-Trails-to-the-Sea might have been a better title for this post.  Once we  loaded the bikes onto the rack, we climbed over the sand dunes to dip our toes in the surprisingly green water of the Gulf of Mexico.  A great way to end the day!

We hope to find other rails-to-trails when we move down the road to Fort Myers, FL tomorrow.  Since our second Habitat for Humanity build begins on Monday, I'm not sure how much time we'll have to bike, but after a month of sightseeing, we are ready to swing our hammers again.


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