By Mary Shanklin Orlando Sentinel
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The cycling route from the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg to the Atlantic Ocean in Brevard County will near completion in three to five years, linking Central Florida cities and towns. Entrepreneurs are wasting no time setting up shop along the proposed trail hoping to cash in on the paved route.
Entrepreneurs across Central Florida have opened inns and bike shops -- and one city is investing more than $1 million to boost business -- all in hopes of benefiting from a bike trail that's carving a path through the state.
With about 80 percent of the 250-mile Coast-to-Coast Trail now complete, the paved route grew by 13 miles last month with the opening of a segment from Titusville in Brevard County to Volusia County.
Hundreds of bicyclists gathered in late February at Titusville's Coast to Coast Bicycle Co. to break in the newest section of the trail, which is aimed at a range of riders and pedestrians.
About 60 miles away in west Orange County, the Oakland Manor House bed and breakfast is set to open this month with plans to offer overnight respites for trail riders. The prospect of capturing groups riding across all -- or even parts -- of the state was one reason the owners decided to invest in re-purposing the historic home that overlooks Lake Apopka.
"That was a huge draw," said proprietor Cynthia Schultz, a former University of Indiana adjunct professor. "If you're a cyclist you're looking for places to stay, this is just two blocks off the trail."
To the west, Clermont has invested more than $1 million in a trail spur connecting its downtown to the trail, and staked out a trademark for the marketing slogan, "Meet Us in the Middle," to reach trail users statewide.
The route from the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg to the Atlantic Ocean in Brevard County will near completion in three to five years, linking Central Florida cities and towns including Groveland, Clermont, Winter Garden, Altamonte Springs, Longwood, Lake Mary, DeBary, Deltona and Osteen.
Even with about $25 million of gas-tax revenues a year aimed at construction, progress has been slowest in Sumter County sections, which are under design. The easternmost stretch of nine miles through Brevard County's Merritt Island to the Atlantic has environmental issues and no funding yet.
"The good news is that big sections are rapidly coming together," said Dale Allen, president of the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation.
West of Central Florida, a five-mile stretch from the Pinellas Trail to Pasco County was finished last year and gaps are being plugged to complete about 100 miles of continuous paved paths as soon as this year. East of Orlando, the newest 13-mile leg is expected this year to thread together Florida's east coast area with Volusia County's Spring to Spring Trail, which leads to DeBary.
In Titusville, Coast to Coast Bicycle Co. co-owner Carrie Overfelt said her shop opened because of the cross-state trail and now the route is becoming a hub with connections to several other trails.
"I think we are going to become a little biking community, and we are going to see a lot of biking events," she said. "We have a lot of European visitors who love to bicycle and they talk about how they would love to do a cross-state ride."
Among the most ambitious plans for the bi-coastal trail is Clermont's efforts to be anything other than the "dead" center of the asphalt ribbon.
"We have known about the Coast to Coast Trail for quite some time and have been preparing back to 2012," said Clermont City Manager Darren Gray. "One of the biggest projects we are getting ready to start design on is what will probably be the best trailhead in the Southeast or even the U.S."
In addition to branding itself with its Meet Us in the Middle trademark, Clermont is investing about $1.1 million into a 1-mile Legacy Loop spur of the South Lake Trail bringing pedestrians and cyclists into a downtown area that Gray said has added dozens of businesses in recent years.
Owners of Epic Cycles World moved from a shopping center near State Road 50 to be next to the trail, and discussions are under way for a boutique hotel between downtown and the trail. In addition, owners of a lumberyard on the trail have planned a 10-acre, mixed-use project with condos, shops and short-term housing, Gray added.
The trailhead off Eighth Street is planned for eateries, kiosks, Wi-Fi, and possibly concessionaires when it is completed, likely in 2020. The city is also redeveloping commercial property on Lake Minneola. The plans, Gray added, grew from a series of meetings that drew suggestions from about 1,000 residents.
Despite delays and detours, trail advocates say the long-distance linear park will boost local economies. "We've ridden trails in all 50 states and the communities that benefit the most from it are the small and mid-size ones where the trails are connected to a larger city," Allen said. In Indianapolis, suburbs with trail connections to the city are growing the fastest and Washington, D.C., trails are faster for commuting than congested roads, he added.
The Missouri Parks Department estimated its statewide Katy Trail generated $18.5 million in economic benefits when last reported in 2012. Wisconsin estimates a $1 billion annual economic boost from its statewide trail system, which Allen said is a better network than Florida's but only usable during part of the year because of severe weather conditions.
"That is happening all across America," he said.