Today the bike path provides a roadway for bicycling, running, walking or driving a golf cart around the island. This was once the path of the railroad tracks whose arrival, connecting the island to the rest of the world, was one of the most important events in Boca Grande's history.
In the 1880s surveyors discovered phosphate in the lower Peace River region. Phosphate is an important part of fertilizer and soon mining companies were barging it down the Peace River into Charlotte Harbor, there to be loaded onto larger ocean going vessels.
To provide a more efficient means of transportation a railroad was built from the mainland to the deep water port at the south end of Boca Grande. To learn more about the port, visit the Barrier Island Lighthouse Museum at the south end of the island.
While the reason for building the railroad was to ship phosphate, the railroad company also developed lots on the island and built the Gasparilla Inn to attract visitors. The railroad soon became the main way to get to Boca Grande. There was no bridge connecting the island and the mainland until 1958.
The railroad operated for more than seventy years. The port closed in 1979. A few years later the railroad abandoned the right-of-way and workers tore up the tracks with the last train leaving the island in 1981. Someone suggested that a bike path would be an excellent replacement.
Bayard (buy’-yard) Sharp, part of the DuPont family, had been a Boca Grande resident for many years and owned the Gasparilla Inn. In the nineteen sixties he bought a competitor, the Boca Grande Hotel, and eventually closed it. The Hotel was south of First Street and the Community Center. It was demolished in 1972.
Bayard and his brother, Hugh Sharp, negotiated a land swap with CSX, the company that owned the railroad in its last years. The brothers traded the Boca Grande Hotel land for the land which had been the rail line. They then donated the railroad track property to the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association for a bike path.
Officially dedicated in 1985, the bike path is a source of exercise and pleasure to all who live and visit in Boca Grande. CSX developed the property of the old Boca Grande Hotel into a community called Boca Bay, where many island residents now live.
It is doubtful that the town of Boca Grande would exist were it not for the discovery of phosphate, the building of a deep water port at the south end of the island and the construction of the railroad to connect the central Florida area where phosphate was processed to the port.