There are lots of reasons to love Pine Island: spectacular sunsets, great birding, golf, boating and paddling trails among them. But one of my favorite amenities has to be the 16-mile bike and pedestrian path that runs from St. James City to the northern tip of Bokeelia. I think it’s one of the best and safest places to pedal whether you’re a casual rider or a more seasoned bicyclist.
It’s certainly been one of my favorite rides since it was finished and every time I take a ride, I give a silent thanks to Pine Islander June Hildreth for envisioning the path and doing the lion’s share of the work to make it a reality.
After June and a small band of helpers had the idea, they started trying to make it a reality. They found out that through the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) the county was set to receive funds for bike/pedestrian paths. June’s group gathered Pine Islanders’ signatures on a petition calling for a bike path on the Island, which let county staff and elected officials know there was support for the path. That petition helped make Pine Island’s a priority project and get the county and federal funding set aside to make it happen.
That was in 1992. .In addition to seeking signatures on petitions, volunteers also helped to secure support from property owners along the path for easements that would allow the bike/pedestrian path to cross their properties.
By 2005, the path commonly known as Stringfellow Trail was completed thanks to a combination of county and federal funding.
To recognize June’s efforts, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Pine Island named a gazebo adjacent to the bike path (south of the Palms of Pine Island, formerly known as Pink Citrus) after her.
I thought of the bike path again not too long ago when I was biking from the Center down toward Matlacha — a harrowing ride that had me keeping my eyes glued to the white line the whole way to make sure I wasn’t going to accidentally veer into traffic and become road kill. It was definitely not one of my favorite rides.
My white-knuckle trip led me to the March meeting of Lee County’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee to ask why there isn’t a path from the Center to Burnt Store Road — something safe that would connect cyclists, joggers and walkers from Pine Island to the rest of Lee County.
There, I learned that funding has been set aside to complete just such a trail, though it isn’t scheduled to happen until 2021 — five years from now. According to our representative on the committee, Ileana Sisson, what we really need to shorten that timeline are champions who will take up the cause to advocate for the connection to be completed.
The Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets from 3 to 5 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month in the Lee County Public Works Building, 1500 Monroe St., Fort Myers, Fla., 33901. The meetings are held in Conference Room 3C, 3rd Floor.
Meetings open with opportunities for people to make statements and ask questions. I spent my three minutes advocating for the need to extend the path from Pine Island Center through Matlacha to Burnt Store Road and I invite like-minded Pine Islanders interested in the idea to stop in and make their voices heard, too.