Pioneer Trail Park – discover Cape Haze
Short History of the Pioneer Trail Park
Before the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail Park became a bike path it was a railroad line – like so many paths in Florida.
A long time ago, Charlotte Harbor & Northern Railroad operated a railroad line from Charlotte Harbor to Boca Grande (Gasparilla Island). It was primarily assigned to Florida’s early phosphate industry. However, it was also used to transport people, livestock and locally grown crops to waiting for steamboats in Boca. Those were the good old days. Everybody was happy.
Eventually, phosphate mining became less and less lucrative. There is always a point of no return, a point where you have to stop your operation before going belly up. When that point was reached, phosphate mining was ceased. As a consequence, the railway also didn’t make sense anymore. Moving stuff around with trucks was more flexible and cheaper. Therefore, Northern Railroad stopped operating the train for good in the late 1970s.
For many years the railway line remained unused and decay took its toll. The new rail to trail movement changed the whole game plan in Florida. Counties bought railroad lines and assigned new tasks. They bought quite a few miles of them, removed the decaying rails and railroad ties and paved them. They created parking space, planted shady trees, built restrooms, shelters, and picnic benches and – voila – ready was a new recreation facility.
To reach the northern trailhead, which is named after Robert and Anne Mercer, take McCall Rd (776) until you reach the intersection of SR 776/771. Go south on SR 771. The parking lot and trailhead are right behind the Publix mall (grocery store).
You will find ample parking, water, restrooms, and shaded picnic benches. You forget to bring enough to drink? There is a grocery store next to you.
There are two more trailheads before you reach the end of the trail. Follow SR 771 2 miles further south and turn right on Rotonda. Parking is on the left. The next one is also 2 miles further south from this one. Drive to Harness Rd and turn right again. After you have crossed the new Coral Creek bridge you reach the last trailhead. Your nice little ride does not need to end here. You can actually cross the bridge to Gasparilla Island to Boca Grande. $3 per bike brings you to beautiful Boca Grande a tropical paradise. Yes, those damn pirates still seem to be around!! However, you will not regret the ransom you pay for crossing the bridge. Gasparilla Island is really beautiful and you can ride your bike on a safe and nice bike trail all the way to the historic village of Boca Grande. In our opinion, the three bucks are a good investment.
The Pioneer Trail is about 8 miles long, flat and straight and has only a few curves. The trail is nice, quiet and rarely crowded. It crossed a creek with mangroves and goes through swampland as well. When the time of the day and year is right you may see wildlife. You will see otters, crabs, jumping fish, eagles nesting, Pelicans, and Bobcats. Snakes, turtles, and wild boars are in the area. There are also plenty of MOSQUITOES. Be prepared! In the rainy season, those bloodsuckers will be after you. Use plenty of bug spray, don’t donate too much blood you may need it later. Also, don’t forget sunscreen and other sun protection. Part of the trail is pretty open and without any shade at all.
Also, keep in mind that extending the trip to Boca a round trip will be 30 miles and more. A 30-mile headwind will make it feel like 50 miles. Don’t forget to take plenty of fluid with you . There are absolutely no restaurants lined up along the bike path.
You can also run or bring your rollerblades. “Professional” roller skaters told us that the surface is a little rough. Hm, we don’t know. Because we would kill us with those things you have to find out yourself.
This is not a dog park. There are definitely better spots for your furry friend in the county. Try the Paw Park beach in Venice for example.