Building on its existing hiking, biking and paddling trails, plans are in the works to make Pasco an epicenter for outdoor recreation in Florida. An extensive trail network is being developed, and it's expanding rapidly.
Part of the plan is developing three regional connections among existing land trails. Planned connections are between Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in New Port Richey and the Pinellas Trail; the Withlacoochee State Trail from Trilby to Dade City; and between multiple coastal parks and a spur off the Pinellas Trail. With these regional connections, visitors can expect to have access to many more places to hike, bike and paddle.
Frederick Buckman, director of Pasco County Parks and Recreation, says the connections will bolster economic development as well as attract tourists to the area.
"The smaller connections will be used by the citizens for sure, but if you make the bigger connections – like the West Orange Trail has and like the Pinellas Trail has – they become destinations on their own.
"The property values are higher in those areas. Businesses thrive around that, too."
While Pasco’s Trails and Blueways master plan is a work in progress, there is plenty for outdoor lovers to experience right now. Wild inland places such as Conner Preserve and Withlacoochee River Park offer visitors a chance to see a side of Florida that’s not often seen. Outdoor recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities abound, with hiking, biking, birding and kayaking being some of the major draws to the area.
The Starkey Wilderness Trail is located on one of the largest undeveloped natural lands in Pasco County and offers visitors a look at Old Florida, providing camping, restrooms and lots more. This 6.5-mile trail connects the 42-mile Suncoast Trail to the four-mile Starkey Boulevard Trail and the 3.1-mile Massachusetts Road Trail to the New Port Richey system that's popular with cyclists and runners.
Pasco County’s coastline is equally as impressive. One of the newest additions to the Florida State Park system is Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, which protects about four miles of untouched coastal habitat. At Werner-Boyce, visitors can walk a short nature trail that’s close to U.S. Highway 19. Kayaks can be launched at nearby Brasher Park.
Pasco County offers plenty of options for coastal kayaking along with two wonderful rivers originating several miles inland. Paddling Anclote Key State Park offers visitors a chance to get away from it all.
Wildlife and nature photographer Andrea Webb travels to Pasco County from nearby Palm Harbor almost daily, and says that Pasco has done an excellent job of protecting natural settings.
“Starkey is the knock-your-socks-off kind of place, but the hidden gems for me are Key Vista Nature Park, Anclote River Park and Anclote Gulf Pier,” says Webb. “I can stay within two miles between the three parks and have a day where I’ve done absolutely everything.”
This article is brought to you by Pasco County Tourism. For more information on eco-opportunities in Pasco County, visit www.visitpasco.net.