Florida DEP celebrates May as National Bike Month

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May is the month when spring is in full swing, with weather just right for all types of outdoor activities.

For that reason, May has been declared National Bike Month, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants everyone on two wheels to recognize the valuable role proper bicycling plays in both personal and environmental health.

First established in 1956 by the League of American Bicyclists, the month recognizes nearly 25 million Florida residents and visitors that participate annually in bicycling statewide. That includes more than 18.4 million bikers on paved trails and nearly 6.5 million bikers on unpaved trails, according to figures from the Florida 2013 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

“Bicycling is a fun, healthy activity for the whole family,” said Florida Park Service director Donald Forgione. “Florida’s state trails provide a safe place to pedal along with beautiful scenery and opportunity to enjoy Florida’s famous sunshine.”

On Saturday, May 10, the historic Northwest Florida town of Milton will become an epicenter of two-wheeled fun, as it hosts the Blackwater Bicycle Festival held at the Blackwater Heritage State Trail’s Visitor Center. The trail extends eight miles north to the 1.5-mile Military Heritage Trail. Vintage bicycles will be on display, or bikers can bring their own to compete in a custom and antique bicycle contest.

Friday, May 16 has been designated Bike to Work Day to encourage people to explore healthy, sustainable and economic transportation options. Statistics show that more than half of the U.S. population lives within five miles of their workplace and bicycle commuting has grown 47 percent in 11 years.

According to the American Heart Association, every $1 spent on biking trails and walking paths could save approximately $3 in medical expenses.

More than providing healthy exercise, bicycling is an easy way to travel between communities, particularly through Florida’s 10 state trails.

Cycling is an excellent way to promote clean air, reduce vehicle emissions and other environmental benefits, so should come as no surprise that May is also National Clean Air month.

In Palatka, two state trails offer biking options. The Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail stretches 47 miles through many small towns and communities while the Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail travels 19 miles through St. Johns and Putnam counties. The Withlacoochee State Trail is Florida’s longest rail-trail and runs through small towns, ranches and six distinct natural communities between Citrus Springs and Trilby.

FloridaStateParks.org offers a list of state parks that offer bicycling for recreation.

The DEP encourages all bicyclists to use a helmet, which is required for anyone younger than 16.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.