a small island (also accessible by a ferry
from Marathon) with a museum telling
the history of the East Coast Railway.
About 10 miles farther south is Bahia
Honda State Park, another lovely spot for
viewing Keys history up-close. Known for
its picturesque beaches, Bahia Honda also
offers access to one of the best preserved
of the old Flagler railway trestle bridges.
While we lap up the Keys’ charms, we
find that riding the trail in its present state
of development presents two challenges:
lack of signage and tire-busting trash.
Planners are working on improvements to
way-finding signage and other enhance-
ments, including crossing lights.
Flat tires are a particular problem on
the FKOHT currently, due to bits of
debris near construction sites and along
the bridges. We carry spare tubes, but
make frequent stops at local bike shops to
shore up our supply.
During our stop at Backcountry Cowboy
in Islamorada, a steady stream of bikers
comes through to rent bikes and shop for
supplies. Owners J.C. Mikula and Kristi
Holman say the evolving trail was one rea-
son they decided to add bike rental, repair
and sales to their stock of kayaks and out-
door apparel a few years ago.
We’re recreational riders ourselves,
and there was a void here,” says Mikula.
The business success has been very hum-
bling. Through all the economy problems,
our growth has been positive year over
year over year.”
In a bid to keep busy during the off-
season, Backcountry Cowboy has latched
on to the Keys’ largest organized ride,
BubbaFest, which draws some 200 riders
each November. Backcountry Cowboy
provides bike rentals and “sag” service,
as well as a trail oasis where bikers con-
gregate throughout the week. “Last year
we also provided kayaks for 80 people on
their day off from riding,” Mikula adds.
Everybody that comes here riding the
trail stops in at the restaurants and little
retail stores, so it really has an impact.”
Down the road at Overseas Outfitters
in Marathon, owner Jeremy Patterson is
also enthusiastic about the trail. “We’ve
seen a steady increase in the population
of cyclists,” he says. Riders are sometimes
surprised that the trail “almost disappears”
once it enters the towns, where the trail
and the sidewalks are largely the same,
Patterson notes. “But the trail people have
done an outstanding job of upgrading the
trail significantly throughout the Upper
and Lower Keys. It’s nice and wide and
meanders away from Highway 1 in places.”
After cruising on the Highway 1 shoul-
der for 10 miles through the Lower Keys,
where the trail has yet to be completed,
we’re happy to roll into Baby’s Coffee, “the
southernmost coffee roaster in America,”
for a helping of their signature frozen
java. Located 15 miles north of Key West,
Baby’s has become a popular turnaround
point for weekend bike groups. From
there, we ride a section of nearly finished
trail all the way into Key West, a busy
tourist destination where bikes and cars
manage a mostly peaceful coexistence.
The Long Haul
With Florida’s siren call of warm weather,
ocean beaches and great seafood, it’s not
hard to see the appeal of a network of
paved pathways for non-motorized trans-
port around the state. “It’s an exciting time
to be into trails,” says RTC’s Bryan. “A lot
of pieces are coming together with individ-
ual trails from around the state becoming
part of a regional and state system.”
A recent study by the East Central
Florida Regional Planning Council shows
that three trails in Orange County (Little
Econ, West Orange and Cady Way) yielded
an economic benefit to the county of $42.6
million in 2010 and supported 516 jobs.
Although that wasn’t enough to prevent
Governor Rick Scott from line-item vetoing
the $50 million allocation needed to com-
plete the highly anticipated 275-mile Coast
to Coast Connector from St. Petersburg to
Titusville, Bryan remains undaunted.
We’re moving forward with a robust
conversation about trails in the state,”
he says. With 200 miles of the east-west
passageway already built, he is working
with the trails community and the Florida
DOT to identify and combine other
possible sources of funding.
And then there is All Aboard Florida, a
high-speed rail line that a private develop-
er plans to build from Orlando to Miami.
We’re proposing a rail-with-trail,” says
Bryan, hopeful of piggybacking on the
developer’s enormous investment in land
through a major north-south swath of the
state to build another extensive trail.
Is it feasible? “It’s the hard ones that I
like most,” says Bryan. “Right now we’re
going through the seven ‘no’s’ to get to
yes.’” Henry Flagler would understand.
Sher Jasperse is a freelance writer based in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. She has ridden and written about
bicycle trails throughout the United States.
Top, a common sight along the FKOHT. Middle,
Mallory Square in Key West is busy most
evenings with performers and crowds. Tourists
stroll along the disconnected Bahia Honda Rail
Bridge. Two spans of the bridge were removed
to accommodate boat traffic.