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Proven wrong

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Shadow Marie at home in the Little Harbor Village Marina in Ruskin.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

mitch01A few years ago during the peak of the housing bubble, I whined and complained about what I saw as the destruction of the Florida I had come to love. While I still think the wild and unique places in South Hillsborough need and deserve constant protection, I can now see that my complaining was largely selfishness veiled in self-professed altruism. In short, I was wrong.

During the housing bubble, it felt as though there were bulldozers on every corner destroying the charm and the very essence of South Hillsborough. I was most upset that the life I had come to know was being replaced by something new and totally different. I wanted everything to stay the same. I didn’t want friends to move away or pass away, I wanted my happy little corner of paradise to remain intact forever—or at least for my forever.

But that’s not how life works. As is said, the only constant is change, but somehow I remained stuck in adolescence as the world grew up around me. The bottom line of my whining was simply arguing that I got mine, too bad for you. In other words, my argument was effectively to tell the tens of thousands of people looking for their own pieces of paradise that they weren’t welcome; unless, of course, they could squeeze in and find room in my view of paradise.

Michelle and I spent eight years living aboard a small sailboat at what was once Bahia Del Sol Marina in Ruskin. It was an idyllic time during which we had the experiences of a lifetime and made lifelong friends. The marina was full of people, a few of whom could well have been characters stepping out of the pages of one of the many popular Florida fiction novels. In fact, one of them more than suggested he was the basis for a character in a novel.

And then it all disappeared. Progress came to Ruskin and the marina as I knew it changed. By then we were gone, but I still felt as though I had a right to my own selfishness. Some of my best memories were there! It shouldn’t be allowed to change! Get those bulldozers out of there! Along the way, one person told me that if I didn’t like it I should just leave. Eventually I did, moving all the way to Iowa, of all places.

On Friday, Michelle and I sailed into the Little Harbor Village Marina — formerly known as Bahia Del Sol. It bears little resemblance to the place we lived for those eight years but I was so lost in my own selfishness that I failed to notice that, despite the rather extensive cosmetic surgery, its soul has remained intact. The day after we arrived, we were shown around the facilities available to slip holders — the pools, exercise rooms, the hot tub, restrooms, and showers.

Yes, I’m nostalgic, but I can also be pragmatic. When it comes to restrooms and showers in a marina, charm only carries so far. In this category alone, Little Harbor blows away my “charming” memories of Bahia Del Sol and anyone who ever kept a boat there knows what I’m talking about.

If that were where it ended, of course, that too would be selfishness. My change of heart, however, does not come from the benefits I’ve derived from change but rather from witnessing the positive impact of change. In this beautiful place, that previously was the domain only for those who own boats, are now families and retirees enjoying the same paradise I fell in love with so many years ago. Now others are able to find the same peace and tranquility I’ve known here. There is life at Little Harbor, wonderful life, and it is growing by the day, thanks in large part to the efforts of general manager Robert Newhart and harbormaster Brad Breseman. Children play on the sidewalks under the watchful eye of their parents who, along with snowbirds, are relaxing in lounge chairs on the pool deck. This beautiful place has become exactly what the developers promised—possibly more so than they ever imagined. It is wonderful and it is home.

Despite the fact that I convinced myself that selfishness wasn’t my motivation, I was selfish. As I type these words from the cockpit of my boat in the marina I can look one way to see people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine on their decks, I can look the other way to see the sun set over the bay, and I know that I have found paradise. Sure, some of it is different than my memories but it is not just different, it is better.

From this marina, I can write articles while watching the children, both young and old, play and enjoy life with abandon. It is here that I can occasionally forgo the brown bag to walk down the docks to the restaurant for a writer’s lunch with a computer in one hand and a grouper sandwich in the other. As I look around, I realize that I’ve searched for this place for so long and I’m glad I finally found it. I’m happy that others are finding it, too. Now if it would just warm up enough to ride the motorcycle to the marina, my life would be complete.

Florida is a unique and beautiful state, and its natural wonders need and deserve vigilant protection. We can’t, however, close the door just because we made it in. Some balance needs to be in place to ensure that those who want to live here, or just want to visit, can do so. Little Harbor is an outstanding example of that balance and I am glad I was proven wrong.

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