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Camp Bayou celebrates 20 years

Published on: March 21, 2019

Plenty of fun this Saturday and year-round

Camp Bayou an oasis of nature for 20 years


Visitors to Camp Bayou enjoy frolicking at water’s edge in the Little Manatee River.

Did you know that Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center has been around for 20 years? A special anniversary event Saturday, March 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. will celebrate this milestone. Several scheduled activities plus other ongoing fun are on tap throughout the morning.
Throughout the year, residents and visitors alike can enjoy a respite from suburban life and theme parks. Camp Bayou is only a short 3 miles off S.R. 674 at the terminus of 24th St. Southeast in Ruskin. In stark contrast to nearby I-75 and the traffic jams of College Avenue, Camp Bayou offers a 160-acre retreat from the encroaching hectic, loud, and busy world. This unique oasis is not a summer camp. In fact, camping is never permitted! The official name includes the more descriptive term “Outdoor Learning Center.” And Camp Bayou is certainly informative and educational, but the main thing Camp Bayou offers to all ages is that rare opportunity to enjoy and to experience nature outdoors through a variety of structured activities and plenty of spontaneous activities off the beaten path.
Camp Bayou is home to a healthy gopher tortoise population — a Florida threatened species ­— plus an abundance of other interesting plants and wildlife. Without having to trek hundreds of miles, you can experience a variety of Florida habitats in a small space, including a nature center, a fossil museum, a native people’s camp, a butterfly habitat, native plant nursery and gardens, and a canoe and kayak launch. If it is just walking that you prefer, come on out and take a hike through pine flatwoods, hardwood hammock , and swamps. The canoe loop through the river is easy and safe paddling that can take anywhere from one to four hours to complete, depending on which bend of the river you take.
Camp Bayou is bordered on the south by the Little Manatee River where you can fish, wade or enjoy a wetland walk.
Schedule for this Saturday’s anniversary party:
9 a.m. – Activities, displays, photo slideshow and raffle station open.
9:30 a.m. – Start of the “Camp Bayou Stroll”- every 10 minutes the stroll will move to another great component of Camp Bayou. Learn about the history of the Nature Center, Native Camp, Butterfly Habitat, Paleo Preserve and more. Join in any time.
10 a.m. – Cart tours of trail begin.
11 a.m. – Presentation: “Celebrating 20 Years,” in the screened pavilion.
11:30 a.m. Lunch – “A Taste of Ruskin” offers samples of classic Ruskin eateries for just $5 per person. Businesses that are participating include Marion’s Subs, The Fish House, The Dog House and HydroHarvest Farms.
1 p.m. – The main celebration ends but the anniversary activities will continue through the year.
Local environmental organizations plan to join the anniversary celebration, with activities and displays, including the Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum, Florida Aquarium, Little Manatee River State Park, Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management, Girl Scout Troop 30349 and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, just to name a few. Camp Bayou volunteers will be showcasing the many youth program options at the center. A Photo Trail, consisting of four posters depicting five-year press releases and photos, will lead visitors to the pavilion where the photo slideshow is running. A raffle will be ongoing through the morning with fun prizes such as books, T-shirts, cookies and more. Tickets are $1 each or 6 for $5. Winners will be announced before lunch. All event attendees will receive a young Everglades tomato plant to take home in appreciation of spending your morning celebrating with Camp Bayou.
Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center is neither a campground nor a summer camp, but it does offer a picnic pavilion and restrooms. It was an RV park before the county’s Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) purchased the land in 1995. The land is now open for day use only, open to the general public. Through volunteers, donations, supporters and grants, the managing nonprofit Bayou Outdoor Learning & Discovery (BOLD) offers preregistered programs to schools, youth groups, adult groups and families. Monthly canoe tours are now available by reservation only. Check the online calendar for trip dates. The Center is open from Thursday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for passive recreational pursuits such as wildlife watching, nature photography and trail walks. General admission is still free.
The Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center is a public-private partnership between BOLD and Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management. According to previous Observer News articles, both the Ruskin Community Development Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center have invested, along with the county, into making Camp Bayou one of the increasingly rare and beautiful places that is a showcase of Florida’s incredible diversity. Nature has reclaimed her prize, and nothing suggests an orange grove or an RV park ever existed here in the 20th century. Check out the Camp Bayou Facebook page, follow @campbayou on Twitter, camp_bayou on Instagram, and for more information visit the website at or call 813-641-8545. Dolly Cummings is the director of Camp Bayou and a member of the League of Environmental Educators in Florida.