Last week, Charlotte County had a press conference to remind knuckle-heads like me about the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail. Good call. I wrote about the bike trail when the first part of it opened, years ago, but hadn’t thought about it much since. Now the whole thing is open and I’m here to rave about the 8-mile route to Placida and the easy connection to Gasparilla Island and the 6-mile Boca Grande Bike Path.
This is a big deal and a great ride.
It reminds me of the Legacy Trail, which connects with the Venetian Waterway Trail and runs all the way to Caspersen Beach. That’s pretty fine, but this Charlotte trail link might be even more spectacular.
Highlights of my Cape Haze ride included a picturesque bridge over Coral Creek. I watched an anhinga drying its wings from a perch on a mangrove branch. That was just the warm-up, though. Just west of the creek was a massive nest built into the crook of a dead pine tree. Presiding over that nest was a bald eagle. Even with the naked eye, you could see this was a big, powerful bird. Lots of hikers and cyclists go out at dawn and dusk to admire the eagle through telescopes and long camera lenses. Next time, I’ll have to pack my little pair of travel binoculars.
At the Pioneer Trail press conference, members of the Coastal Cruisers pedaled up in blue-and-gold cycling jerseys. I talked with Carrie O’Brien, 55, who retired to Rotonda West from a small town in Oregon.
She often rides through Rotonda and South Gulf Gove. She is also a fan of the Coral Creek bridge.
“That’s my favorite part of the whole trail,” O’Brien said. “That last bridge down there has the best sunrises. “During season, there are quite a few people on the trail, but that’s OK. It’s getting used. It’s not going to waste.”
$3 bike toll
On my visit, I didn’t have time to pedal the length of Gasparilla Island, but I did want to test-ride the Boca Grande Causeway.
It's not bad, especially if you’re with a group of cyclists. From the Pioneer Trail, there are sidewalks along Placida Road until you make the turn to the toll booth. It’s $3 for cyclists, half the price for cars.
The island bridges are low enough to ride and high enough to offer postcard glimpses of turquoise water, beige beaches and white surf. This view is worth the trip.
The town of Boca Grande is a lovely place to stretch your legs and stop for lunch. Then there’s the ride back to the mainland and the Pioneer Trail. If you time it right, you could spot a bald eagle near sunset.
The Cape Haze Pioneer Trail and Boca Grande Bike Path are rails-to-trails projects that are open from dawn until dusk.
For more information,visit trailink.com.