A review for people with disabilities:
The Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier State Park
By Susan Hofstader
We begin our “pier review” with a spot that is ideal for those who get around on wheels – no surprise, since it started life as a road. The Skyway Fishing Pier state park is actually two piers: the three-quarter mile long north pier and the one-and-a-half mile long south pier. Each was originally part of the old skyway bridge that first opened in 1954 as one two-lane span (a parallel span was added in 1971) and provided both a convenient route from St Pete to Bradenton and access to fantastic fishing. For decades, the bridge built a reputation as a place where non-boaters could catch enormous sharks, grouper, kings, tarpon and other large saltwater fish. The old bridge was destroyed when a large freighter, driven off course in a storm, rammed the bridge on May 9, 1980. Following the construction of the current bridge, the old bridge spans were demolished except for the portions kept as fishing piers; much of the resulting rubble was piled alongside the piers to form artificial reefs.
The Skyway Pier’s past as a bridge with parallel with two-lane spans is still evident. In its current incarnation, the left lanes are devoted to (parallel) parking, the right lanes to moving vehicles (15 mph limit enforced by bumps, which also indicate the location of crosswalks). The walkways on either side of each span are separated from the roadway by one-foot high, two-foot deep concrete barriers. These are useful to blind anglers who navigate by cane, and also provide a convenient place to set a tackle box.
There is an abundance of parking (571 on the south pier, 200 on the north) including plenty of well-marked handicap spaces with plenty of room on all sides for getting in and out of the vehicle. The concrete barriers between the roadway and walkway have been removed for the length of the handicapped spaces, so wheelchair users can roll right over to the rail and drop a line between the northbound and southbound lanes. There are also gaps in the barriers on both sides at the crosswalks which punctuate the roadway at regular intervals.
There are numerous accessible restrooms on both piers, and both have bait shops (There are two bait shops on the South pier, but one was closed when I last visited). The North Pier has a large picnic area next to the bait shop. The only accessibility problem I saw was the baitshop door, which when propped open partially blocked the access ramp.
As for the big fish – they’re still out there. A couple of weeks ago, we hear, somebody caught a 100+ pound goliath grouper on the North Pier (which was returned to the water, as required by law, once they managed to unhook the monster). Other recent catches include Spanish Mackerel, Silver Trout, Sheepshead, Gag grouper, ladyfish and pompano.
The present Skyway pier website (www.skywaypier.com) is not the most accessible for users of screenreaders (it has a loud soundtrack) but they are working on a new page (without the music) which should be accessible when completed. In the meantime you can call the North Pier at (727) 865-0668, South Pier at (941) 729-0117.
DIRECTIONS: From St Petersburg, head south on I-275 toward Bradenton – the North pier is about a mile past the toll ($1.00) For the South pier, continue over the bridge and follow the signs. From Bradenton: head north on I-275 (or US 19 to I-275) and follow the signs.