“I could ride all day and not spot another cyclist. Now I can’t even go down my street without seeing at least a few people on bikes,” said Nederveld, who is involved with local recreational and advocacy bicycle projects. “We’ve seen cycling just explode around here. A lot of visitors come in and want to know where to ride.”
The answer to where visitors should ride is now easy – on the ever-growing network of multi-use paved trails called the Punta Gorda Pathways, where nine of the 18 planned miles are completed, many along the water. For more serious cyclists, four on-street routes from 17 to 30 miles long traverse the city and surrounding areas. They recently were marked with traffic signs, a project Nederveld spearheaded.
Judy Brentano, chief operating officer of the all-volunteer TEAM Punta Gorda, credits the Pathways project with bringing fresh attention to the city on Florida’s south-central Gulf Coast, already lauded for its revitalization in the wake of massive destruction from Hurricane Charley in 2004.
“I really think our claim to fame now is the bicycle paths all around the city,” said Brentano, whose group first envisioned the popular system. “People love it. You can bike, roller blade, walk your dog, jog.”
Winter residents Bob and Kerry Dickson are big fans. On a warm winter day, they were taking a cycling break at TT's Tiki Bar at the Four Points by Sheraton. The lively resting spot and watering hole overlooking Charlotte Harbor sits on the scenic three-mile Harborwalk, which runs along several waterfront parks and offers a traffic-free traverse under the U.S. 41 bridges.
“We love the trails,” Kerry Dickson said. “We just did the new part this morning and it was really pretty with no traffic.” The newest section is the two-mile Linear Park, which goes through the city’s tree-lined historic neighborhood district.
The Harter family, visiting from Ohio, spotted on the “MURT ”(Multi-Use Recreational Trail), which runs four miles along U.S. 41 south of the city, was enjoying the day on in-line skates while visiting Mike Harter‘s parents.
“They told me about the new trail, and last year we did the one along the water,” said Mike, skating with his wife and 14-year-old son. “We like to do active things as a family. It gives us a chance to be outside.”
For boaters Deb Hussey and Lou Spagna, who dock their sailboat at Laishley Park Marina a couple months out of the year, the bicycle network is their transportation system. They don’t even have to bring their own bikes because TEAM Punta Gorda started the state’s first free bike-loan program in 2010.
“We cycle about five miles a day,” Hussey said, who was spotted on one of the distinctive yellow bikes along the Linear Park trail. “We’ve never not been able to get the loaners. We’re just now riding this stretch for the first time. It takes you through a different part of Punta Gorda.”
Spagna said he likes to check out new parts of the trail when they visit.
“We notice the trails growing every time we come,” he said. “It’s especially hopping on the waterfront. You see kids in strollers, people walking dogs, families. There are just a lot of people using the trails.”
Here are some highlights along the Pathways’ three connecting trails:
Laishley Park, Marina and Fishing Pier: The park, near Charlotte Harbor, features a gazebo, pond, fountain, veterans’ garden and shelter with picnic tables.
Spirit of Punta Gorda Statue: Memorial made of steel and hurricane debris depicts two palm trees, one standing straight and the other bent symbolizing the community’s resilience and spirit after Hurricane Charley.
Interactive Fountain: Fountain is popular with kids who run through the pulsating jets of water.
TT's Tiki Bar at the Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside: Meals and beverages are served at this popular stop along the trail.
Gilchrist Park: Covers 11 acres along Charlotte Harbor and includes a playground, tennis courts, fishing pier, gardens, gazebo, picnic shelters, small beach and a restroom. The drop-in “Guitar Army” gathers every Thursday night to play music.
Fishermen’s Village: A dining, shopping and entertainment complex with lodging and a marina. Fishing and harbor sightseeing cruises leave from here as well.
Historic Train Depot: Renovated 1928 depot sits a couple blocks from the trail, which was built on a former railroad right-of-way.
MURT (Multi-Use Recreational Trail)
Punta Gorda History Park: Contains gardens and three historic buildings from 1885 to 1914. Every Sunday morning it hosts a market with food, plants and crafts.
Hounds of Henry Street Park: The clean, grassy dog park near the history park includes a separate small dog area, water spigots and bowls, picnic tables and benches.
Rick Treworgy’s Muscle Car City: Museum displays more than 200 1950s to early ‘70s muscle cars, trucks and automotive memorabilia, including vintage gas pumps and signs.
Want to find out more? Look here:
Travel and tourism information at http://www.charlotteharbortravel.com/
Punta Gorda Pathways and Punta Gorda/South Charlotte County Area Bicycle Routes maps at http://www.ci.punta-gorda.fl.us/depts/growthmgmt/ringaroundcity.html
Free loaner bikes can be borrowed from several locations around town, including Fishermen’s Village and Laishley marinas and Four Points by Sheraton. http://www.teampuntagorda.org/bike_loaner_brochure.pdf
Bicycles can be rented at:
Acme Bicycle Shops, Punta Gorda, 941-639-2263, www.acmebicycleshop.com.
Bicycle Center, Port Charlotte, 941-627-6600, www.bicyclecentercc.com.