By LINDA CHION KENNEY
The Apollo Beach Nature Preserve has another selling point with its grand reopening, a wheelchair-accessible 37-foot observation tower that offers stunning sunset views of Tampa Bay and the skylines of St. Petersburg and Tampa.
The ADA-compliant wooden structure, with wide ramps and modest grades, sits near the center of the 63-acre preserve at the north end of Surfside Boulevard and which includes 7 acres reserved for nature-based recreation.
The preserve had been closed since March, partly for pandemic concerns but primarily because of planned construction additions and improvements, including the tower, a shell path and rehabilitation of an existing seawall to improve erosion control.
At the wooden tower Sept. 23, two weeks after the preserve’s reopening, Cody Molter gave her two- thumbs-up review as a 20-year Apollo Beach resident.
“I’m glad they reopened it,” she said, noting the people bustling about, as much as they can be in these pandemic times. Signs are posted that alert visitors to the preserve’s COVID-19 safety protocols and restrictions, including one posted at the tower’s entrance that calls for social distancing, face coverings and a maximum of 10 people at one time.
“I love this because you can see 360-degrees all the way around,” Molter said, of the view from the top of the tower, which rests on an expanse of beach and native vegetation. “It’s enhanced the area
even more because now you can see the views from different altitudes.”
Among the views are ships coming to port, planes setting to land, Apollo Beach waterfront homes and the 11-acre Pine Key Island. Also in view is the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, operated by Tampa Electric Co., and its Manatee Viewing Center. The center is set to open Nov. 1 for its 35th season, at 6990 Dickman Road.
The broad wooden observation tower is Hillsborough County’s first that is wheelchair-accessible. Additionally, the nature preserve offers a 2-acre sandy beach, habitat restoration area and short, hiking nature trail, along with parking and restrooms. The picnic pavilions are closed until further notice, due to coronavirus concerns.
County officials report “swimming is prohibited because of swift offshore currents, but eight breakwaters protect and preserve the beach,” making the preserve “ a great place to fish, bird-watch, build a sandcastle or fly a kite.”
Colter, a pastor, takes it a step further, noting the overriding reason the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve is a must in her weekly routine, as well as a source of divine inspiration for her sermons.
“I love it because of the peace and the tranquility and that you’re in tune with nature,” Molter said, pointing out the ducks, seagulls, fish and manatees, once the waters cool.
“When you’re working nine to five and you’re in corporate America, you just want to get away sometimes,” Molter said. “So this is the getaway place. This is your detox.”
The Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, managed by Hillsborough County Conservation and Lands Management, is open from sunrise to sunset seven days a week, at 6760 Surfside Blvd. Call: 813-672-7876.