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Staycation Citrus: Explore Citrus County by bike

Editor’s Note: This story is part of an occasional series of “staycations” that allow Citrus County residents to spend vacation time locally this summer without the expense of traveling very far.

On a recent Friday morning, Hernando resident Cheryl Jenkins and her daughter, Stephanie Wolff, visiting from Arizona, wanted something to do.

The day was warm but overcast, and they decided it was a great day for bike riding.

So, they grabbed their water bottles and rented a pair of bicycles from Inverness Bicycle & Fitness, strapped on their helmets, and as bike store owner Sherry Bechtel pointed them to the Withlacoochee State Trail, they pedaled off for a day’s adventure.

“We don’t usually ride bikes, but we picked today because it’s a little cloudy out and not as hot,” Jenkins said. “So, we’ll see.”

Bike riding is huge, and Citrus County is a destination for bike riders, especially the Withlacoochee State Trail, Bechtel said.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck Chronicle photo editor 

Citrus County attracts visitors for many reasons. The paved, Withlacoochee State Trail is one of those reasons. Above, a cyclist passes in front of a colorful sign welcoming riders to the Inverness Trail Head. The Withlacoochee Trail is now connected to the Dunnellon Trail by way of a tunnel under U.S. 41.

“We do a lot of rentals,” she said. “This trail is heavily used. And people from all over actually move here because of the bike trail.”

The Withlacoochee State Trail, which runs from Dunnellon to Trilby, is just one of the many places to ride your bicycle, tricycle or recumbent bike this summer.

Looking for something to do here in Citrus County? Consider biking the local trails.

Paved bike trails:

The Withlacoochee State Trail is one of the longest paved rail-trails in Florida, 46 miles from Dunnellon to Trilby in Pasco County.

Part of the Florida Greenways and Trail System, this trail has also been designated as a National Recreation Trail.

In Citrus County, the trail can be accessed at a number of places:

Gulf Junction Trailhead, 2246 W. Magenta Drive, Citrus Springs.

There are restrooms, a gazebo with a picnic area, lots of shade, maps, and parking.

Ride about 11 miles south to Hernando where there’s more restrooms and picnic tables. This is a good place to leave the trail for a side trip to Lake Hernando Park across U.S. 41 or even grab a bite to eat at one of the local eateries.

The Inverness Trailhead 6 miles away takes you across the scenic Lake Henderson Trestle, and past the Inverness Depot District, Liberty and Wallace Brooks parks.

Next stop: Fort Cooper State Park, which features miles of trails to ride on and beautiful scenery and wildlife.

Note: There’s a $2 entrance fee to enter the park.

The final stop in Citrus County is Floral City at Orange Avenue with a nearby rest area and places to visit in the town.

The trail continues south and ends at Trilby.

Also, there are several local bike shops along the trail if you need a repair or just have questions about the area and the trail.

The trail is relatively flat and there aren’t too many places with an incline, so it’s comfortable for all skill levels.

Learn more at www. floridastateparks.org/parks -and-trails/withlacoochee -state-trail.

The Withlacoochee Bay Trail, 10201 N. Suncoast Blvd, Crystal River FL 34428.

This 5-mile trail goes from the Felburn Park Trailhead to the Gulf of Mexico along the southern side of the former Cross Florida Barge Canal. After the first 2.5 miles, the trail switches its path to the south side of the berm, created when the canal was excavated. The next 2.5 miles runs through scenic salt marsh habitats and maritime hammocks, trees and shrubs.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck Chronicle photo editor 

Covered pavilions offers those utilizing the trail the opportunity to rest in the shade, fish or take in the scenery along the barge canal.

At the end of the trail there’s a pavilion where, if you time it right, you can watch the sunset.

Also, there are rest areas and interpretive signs highlighting the trail’s historical significance and identifying the local ecology.

Visit www.floridastate parks.org/parks-and-trails/withlacoochee-bay-trail.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

220611-CC-staycation-bike-trail-4.jpg

Signage near the trailhead of the Withlacoochee Bay Trail informs users of distances to various parking areas and rest facilities.

The recently constructed 13-mile Citrus County section of the Suncoast Trail that parallels the Suncoast Parkway is unofficially open for hiking and biking. It’s now possible to ride from Lecanto north through Hernando and Pasco counties all the way to Tampa at State Road 60, with many stops along the way.

At 68 miles, it’s one of the longest uninterrupted paved paths in Florida.

A popular destination off the trail is the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve, with its beautiful waterways and scenic views, located in Pasco County.

Get more information at www.FloridaGreenways AndTrails.org.

Crystal River Crosstown Trail

From the corner of Northeast First Avenue and Northeast 11th Street to the corner of Cutler Spur Boulevard/Three Sisters Springs Trail and West Fort Island Trail, the Crosstown Trail, once a historic railroad bed, takes cyclists through the city of Crystal River.

Stop for lunch at one of the city’s many places to eat, or bike to the river or Hunter Springs Park for a swim.

Learn more about things to do in Crystal River at www.crystalriverfl.org.

mattbeck / Photos by Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

A new connector links the Withlacoochee State Trail and the Dunnellon Trail by way of a tunnel under U.S. 41 at County Road 39 in northern Citrus County.

Unpaved trails

For those who want a more challenging and adventurous ride, Citrus County has a number of unpaved trails, which require a more rugged bicycle. If that’s your thing, here are some local places to ride:

Flying Eagle Preserve, 11080 E. Moccasin Slough Road, and Potts Preserve, 2988 N. Hooty Point, both located in Inverness and accessible from Eden Drive/Moccasin Slough Road, are part of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Flying Eagle has about 22 miles of multi-use trails that bicyclists can use, and Potts Preserve has about nine.

If you like bird watching, a variety of feathered friends call these two places home.

Note: Bicyclists are required to stay on designated or marked trails.

Visit www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/flying -eagle-preserve or www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/ recreation/potts-preserve.

Whispering Pines Park, 1700 Forest Drive, Inverness.

In 2011, several local bicyclists approached the Inverness City Council with a dream of a mountain bike trail through Whispering Pines Park, and their dream came true.

A 2.5-mile, one-way, single-track trail around the perimeter of the park offers a challenging ride through forested trees and around twists and turns over fallen leaves and pine needles.

Note: Mountain bikes are heavier than road bikes with thicker tires with deeper grooves and are meant for riding through rougher terrain.

To get to the mountain bike trail from the park entrance on Forest Drive, go to the first stop sign and turn right. The trail is across from the community building.

See what else Whispering Pines Park offers at www.inverness-fl.gov/641/ Whispering-Pines-Park.

Crystal River Preserve State Park, 3266 N. Sailboat Ave, Crystal River.

The 7-mile trail that runs through a variety of habitats, including basin marsh, tidal marsh, pine flatwoods, basin swamps and wet hardwood hammocks, offers rough-riding cyclists the opportunity to experience this 27,000-acre preserve along Crystal River.

Access the trailhead at the corner of State Park Street and Sailboat Avenue, 0.6 miles north of Crystal River Mall on the west side of U.S. 19. Drive west on State Park Street to the last corner to the gravel road; park your vehicle across from gate.

Visit www.floridastate parks.org/parks-and-trails/crystal-river-preserve -state-park.


Local
Citrus County Sheriff's Office's Operation Cyber Knights arrests 10 suspected cyber predators
Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Covyaw

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Warlick

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Beccera

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Hottes

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Henderson Jr.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Carver III

The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office recently arrested 10 suspected cyber criminals accused of intending to engage in sexual activity with youths, according to a Wednesday, June 8, news release.

The program, called Operation Cyber Knights, saw success with 10 subjects being arrested either in Citrus County or via Citrus County warrants, under various charges of inappropriate conduct towards minors. Operation Cyber Knights was a joint effort between multiple local, state, and federal law enforcement bodies.

Officials in the operation went undercover online, posing as 13 or 14-year-old children before exchanging online messages with subjects, directly stating their age. When the subjects would continue sexually explicit conversations after acknowledging the child’s age, law enforcement would then pursue and arrest them.

Sheriff Mike Prendergast felt internet pedophiles’ instant, often unmoderated, contact with youth through online message platforms made them particularly dangerous to the community.

“Parents – predators know how susceptible and trusting our children are. They also know how easy it is to gain access to your children and exploit them through the internet,” Prendergast said.

This operation was part of the High Tech Crimes Unit, dedicated primarily to investigating child pornography online. The unit is also a member of the Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force that serves to actively discover and combat child exploitation on the internet.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Brown

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Neu

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Rampe

Citrus County Sherriff's Office 

Simpson

The following arrests were made as part of this operation:

Christopher Covyaw, 49, Inverness, total bond set at $137,000.

Dustin Warlick, 34, Inverness, total bond set at $137,000.

Fabricio Oswaldo Aguilar Beccera, 41, Ocala, total bond set at $27,000.

Kenneth Hottes, 43, Ocala, total bond set at $52,000.

Bruce William Henderson Jr., 50, Brooksville, total bond set at $52,000.

Harold Wilfred Carver III, 45, Orlando, no bond.

Timothy Brown, 53, Ponte Vedra, total bond set at $450,000.

Lawrence Neu, 67, Lakeland, total bond set at $252,000.

Justin Rampe, 38, Williston.

Phillip Simpson, 26, Anthony, total bond set at $52,000.

Prendergast said the operation’s collaboration among law enforcement offices was invaluable as it prevented local youths from being targeted by internet predators.

“I am extremely proud of the teamwork from the various law enforcement agencies that went into making these arrests possible and for knowing that thanks to their dedication, we’ve stopped these sexual predators from preying on children in our county and our surrounding counties,” Prendergast said.


Local
Citrus County scores high for least credit card debt in state

Citrus has the sixth lowest credit card debt of all 67 counties in the state.

SmartAsset, a financial technology firm, has issued a report that measures credit card debt as a percentage of income and net wealth. It covers counties across the nation and sought out places where people were most responsible with their charge cards.

The findings:

Average income of Citrus County residents: $28,174

Their overall wealth: $51,481

michaelbates / Chronicle 

Wooten

Average credit card debt: $2,981. Of that, 10.6 percent is from income and 5.8 percent from wealth.

Josh Wooten, president/CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, cited the county’s large retiree population which tends not to amass credit card debt.

“They’re on fixed incomes and they get to a certain point that they want to stay out of debt and just use their credit card for convenience,” Wooten said.

Citrus County also has a high poverty rate and low-income residents do not have access to credit and so that’s reflected in the numbers, he added.

That leaves the middle-class and, based on the SmartAsset report, “it sounds like they’re pretty disciplined” when it comes to credit card usage, Wooten said.

Sumter County had the lowest credit card debt in the state. Taylor County was second, followed by Sarasota, Charlotte and Highlands in third, fourth and fifth places, respectively.

SmartAsset calculated the ratio of credit card debt to per capita income for each county. That number was the benchmark to determine whether people will be able to pay off that debt.

The company then factored in the net wealth per capita and developed an index taking a weighted average. The counties with the highest overall index values had the least debt.

To view the entire report, visit https://smartasset.com/credit-cards/credit -card-calculator#florida


News_notes
Animal Services waives adoption fees due to overcrowding

Citrus County Animal Services (CCAS) is currently experiencing overcrowding at the shelter due to multiple cruelty cases. Because of this, adoption fees have been waived until further notice.

Adoptions are available to Citrus County residents, as well as residents of other counties. Citrus County residents will still be required to pay a license fee of $10 while adoption fees are waived.

Those who cannot adopt are encouraged to consider fostering. Learn more about their “Fabulous Foster Program” by contacting CCAS or emailing Leigh Sweet at leigh.sweet@citrusbocc.com.

CCAS also asks that all approved rescue partners come forward to help, if possible. If a rescue group would like to partner with CCAS, call the shelter or email Colleen Yarbrough at colleen.yarbrough@citrusbocc.com.

The animals available for adoption at CCAS are listed on the Citrus County website: tinyurl.com/mr3yrfdn. This site is updated in real-time and has the most up-to-date listings of animals available for adoption, so check back frequently for updates.

For any questions and anyone interested in fostering or adoption, visit the shelter, located at 4030 S. Airport Road, Inverness, or contact CCAS at 352-746-8400.


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