By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
Urban sprawl, despite its headlong rush through southeast Hillsborough County, has not obliterated Mother Nature and all it has to offer from South Shore.
If you are looking for an alternative to concrete, to manicured lawns, and to controlled civilization, then look no further than a five-minute drive (by car) or a 15-minute ride (by bicycle) from the epitome of congested business in South Shore – the intersection of U.S. 301 and S.R. 674. Turn south and in minutes, once you pass the bridge over the Little Manatee River you will be at the entrance, on your right, to the scenic, relaxing “Canoe Outpost.”
Yours to experience is the shady canopy of large oak trees, a dip or a drift on the “outstanding” Florida water of the Little Manatee River, a picnic, a hike, canoes or kayaks, fishing, or overnight camping (primitive or rustic with modern amenities). Take your pick: One several, or all.
The Canoe Outpost-Little Manatee River has been open since 1978, but the Ruddeforth family has owned and operated it since 2003. An outdoorsperson’s paradise, it is located on the southern edge of Hillsborough county, just 1 mile from the Little Manatee River State Park and 3 miles from Sun City Center. The official address on your GPS is 18001 U.S. 301 S., Wimauma, FL 33598.
The Canoe Outpost is South Shore’s premiere paddling and camping destination, specializing in reconnecting you with Florida’s natural beauty and serenity. According to Brian Ruddeforth, the resident manager, “ We rent canoes and kayaks for day trips, and also offer campsites for families, small groups and larger groups or events. We also have three cabins and a converted school bus for rent.”
Prior to running the Canoe Outpost, Brian and the Rudderforth family owned and managed rental properties across Tampa Bay in Saint Petersburg. “We decided to make a change and get away from the city, and we’ve been growing and enjoying every day on the river ever since.” said Ruddeforth, smiling as he arranged kayaks around the launch dock on the Little Manatee, which is narrow, clear and shallow at this point.
Riding herd on the Outpost, Ruddeforth says that one major challenge that has increased over the years is the intensity and unpredictability of the summer rains and tropical storms/hurricanes. “Living on the river, you naturally open yourself up to Mother Nature’s whims. Hurricane Irma last year, for instance, shut us down due to flooding for about three weeks and caused significant damage to our roadways and campsites,” noting that everything is finally back to normal, or as normal as the wilderness will permit.
Asked what gives him a sense of contentment and satisfaction with his business, Ruddeforth did not hesitate to respond,
“Every day I get to interact with my neighbors on what might be the best day of their week or month, and I get to make it that much better by delivering excellent service. I like giving families a place to get away from it all and reconnect, and I love being a steward for one of Florida’s most pristine waterways.”
Ruddeforth, a laid-back businessman himself, also is very observant and aware of life outside the Outpost, commenting, “South Shore is growing by leaps and bounds, homes are being built by the thousands, and while there are always growing pains (like the construction on U.S. 301… 2020 can’t get here soon enough), I’m very excited to see all of our new neighbors and the unique color and flair each will bring to the area.
“The Canoe Outpost has always been a point of pride in my life, and it’s an honor to get to work with my family and build something that we can all take pleasure in,” he concluded, as the resident peacock strutting nearby unfolded his magnificent kaleidoscope of vibrating plumage.