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Outdoor enthusiasts make way to new Courtney Campbell trail

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Published:   |   Updated: September 14, 2013 at 06:15 PM

TAMPA — On Saturday morning, Dustin Nash and Grace Pampo decided to go on a stroll.

But instead of walking around their Clearwater neighborhood, the couple headed east to the Courtney Campbell Causeway and the new pedestrian trail and bridge that stretch parallel to the scenic highway.

“You can see all three cities from here,” Nash said of the panoramic view at the top of the bridge’s span where Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater are visible. “And I didn’t have appreciation for wildlife until I walked this bridge. I couldn’t believe how many big fish I saw in the water.”

The Hillsborough County side of the causeway trail opened Aug. 30 to walkers, bicyclists, in-line skaters and joggers, said Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kristen Carson. The Pinellas County side will be completed next year.

When finished, the path will be a part of a nine-mile scenic trail on the south side of the causeway. At both ends, the trail is expected to link with other pedestrian paths, such as the Ream Wilson Trail in Clearwater and a utility road in the Rocky Point area.

The $14 million project was built using federal money, and timed to coincide with an asphalt resurfacing project for the causeway, Carson said.

Benches, shaded structures, information kiosks and expanded parking for the pedestrian bridge are in the works.

A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Hillsborough side of the span is scheduled for Nov. 16.

“We’re really proud of it,” Carson said.

It is the sole bridge over Old Tampa Bay dedicated solely to pedestrians since the Friendship Trail Bridge on Gandy Boulevard closed in 2008.

The pedestrian-friendly Courtney Campbell span, which is 45-feet tall at its apex, has not escaped controversy. Transportation officials decided to ban fishing on the structure, citing safety concerns.

Fishermen casting lines, and perhaps leaving chairs, coolers and other items along the path, could injure bicyclists and walkers, Carson said.

The first day the span was open, fishermen disobeyed the rule, leaving fish hooks and broken bottles near the railings, she said.

“We knew fishing from the bridge wouldn’t be safe for pedestrians,” Carson said.

George Ingole of Tampa said he was glad fishing isn’t allowed.

“I go under this bridge with a boat almost every day,” he said. “I don’t want to get a hook in my eye.”

Ken Chmara, who walked the bridge for the first time Saturday with his wife, Debbie, said it doesn’t bother him that he can’t fish at the top of span.

“I got plenty of other spots,” Ken Chmara of Safety Harbor said. “It won’t cramp my style.”

His wife said the bridge, which crosses Old Tampa Bay, has plenty of room for pedestrians, but adding fishermen to the mix would make it too cramped.

“It would be too dangerous if fishermen were allowed on it, because they’re always throwing out their lines,” Debbie Chmara said.

Ingole said when construction began, he took his boat out to watch because he couldn’t wait to walk across it.

“I was here when the first pylon went in the water,” he said, “and I’ve been here every day since it opened.”

Krista Louden and Justin Fiedler crossed the bridge on foot for the first time Saturday and already were planning a return trip.

“We heard it was open, so we were like, ‘Let’s use it,’” Louden said.

Fiedler paused at the top, taking in the sky and water.

“Look at this view,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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