PUBLISHED AUGUST 4, 2016
By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
Local and state officials held a public hearing in Sun City Center on July 27 to discuss and hear public input on proposed changes and improvements on the upcoming 10-year-plan for a regional jewel: The Little Manatee River State Park.
Every decade, each of Florida’s 174 state parks and trails develop a new 10-year-plan. The plan is drafted by the officials from the state parks and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, along with public input. The final plan is written in Tallahassee and is approved by a commission responsible for the oversight of the state’s increasingly valuable public places.
The new plan, prior to public input, includes the expectation of 30 new campsites, the addition of equestrian campsites, a primitive campsite located directly on the Little Manatee River, the addition of three observation platforms on the Oxbow Nature Trail, the addition of shared-use trails, the development of a new trailhead on U.S. Highway 301 and improvements to the canoe / kayak launch area.
Although the public hearing was held last week, the public input period will continue until Aug. 11.
The Little Manatee River State Park is a 2,416-acre park located in Hillsborough County, near the Manatee County line, just south of Sun City Center. The park is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Division of Recreation and Parks.
At the meeting, a large satellite photo of the park revealed the foresight that existed in creating and preserving it. The park offers a quiet refuge for nature but development is rapidly building out to the borders. Saving that land will ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy natural Florida in all of its beauty.
The 40-mile long Little Manatee River begins near Ft. Lonesome, east of Wimauma, continues through the park and flows into Tampa Bay, also feeding the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. The park itself offers opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding or simply a local and convenient escape to a quiet and uniquely beautiful place.
As Florida’s population continues to grow by leaps and bounds, state parks such as Little Manatee River, reveal their value. The park includes increasingly rare and unique Florida ecosystems and miles of trails that can range from day-hikes to overnight trips. The Oxbow Nature Trail, included for improvement in the upcoming 10-year-plan, is a one-mile trail along scrub ridges that skirt the river and includes views of an oxbow wetland — a natural place that was created over the millennia by the river itself. In addition to at least 12 miles of hiking trails, there are 15 miles of equestrian trails. For day use, the park offers picnic pavilions, many alongside the river. For overnight visitors, the park offers a full-facility campground, which also is included for expansion in the plan. And, of course, the park offers opportunities for canoeing and kayaking down the river.
Cathy Moore, representing the Friends of Little Manatee State Park, was also at last week’s meeting. Her organization works to help the park find the means to make improvements for the benefit of all visitors.
“We try to help them out however we can,” Moore said.
Park Manager Joe Howard was less modest about the contributions made by the organization.
“We are somewhat restricted with what we can purchase and how we can do it,” he said. “But they are free to make purchases for things we need. It’s especially helpful towards the end of the fiscal year. The budget just isn’t there.”
The park is within easy driving distance for nearly everyone in the South Bay area, yet it remains a “hidden gem” or, as stated on the park website, “a best kept secret.” With the recent growth of the area, that is changing.
“I have a feeling it won’t be hidden for very much longer,” Moore said.
Although the public hearing was last week, the public input period for the park’s 10-year-plan will continue until Aug. 11. You may email your input, using “Little Manatee River State Park” as the subject line to FL_StateParkPlanning@dep.state.fl.us. Your input about the park may also be sent in letter form to:
Office of Park Planning
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Recreation and Parks
3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 525
Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000
In a growing and increasingly hectic metropolitan area, the Little Manatee River State Park offers visitors a respite to the original, natural beauty that is entirely unique to Florida. It is worth protecting. It is certainly worth visiting.
The Little Manatee River State Park is located along U.S. Highway 301, approximately four miles south of Sun City Center. The park entrance is just off 301 on Lightfoot Road. For more information about the park visit www.floridastateparks.org/park/Little-Manatee-River.