By LOIS KINDLE
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center opened Nov. 1 with an exciting addition sure to delight hundreds of thousands of visitors this year.
“We added another observation platform off the tidal walk about 150 feet out into the canal to give guests an even closer look at visiting manatees,” said Jamie Woodlee, administrator of viewing center’s operations. “It opens Nov. 15.”
During the off-season, TECO also remodeled the gift shop and added two new electric golf carts to transport visitors from its overflow parking lot to the viewing center and back.
And in a third-party agreement, Canoe Outpost set up a launch on the Manatee Viewing Center property in the overflow parking area. RSVPs are required by calling 813-634-2228.
The Manatee Viewing Center is the anchor attraction for the Florida Conservation and Technology Center, a public-private partnership between Tampa Electric, The Florida Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the University of Florida. The center includes the Manatee Viewing Center, Tampa Electric’s Clean Energy Center, Florida Aquarium Coral Conservation Center and Sea Turtle Rehabilita tion Center, FWC Florida Youth Conservation Center and FWC Fish Hatchery.
Since the early 1970s, hundreds of manatees seasonally seek refuge in the warm water discharge canal of Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station, when the water temperature of Tampa Bay is 68 degrees or colder.
“We’ve had a few mothers come in with their babies during a recent cold snap,” Woodlee said.
In addition to viewing the sea cows, visitors can see and touch cownose rays as they glide by in the viewing center’s touch tank. Other offerings include its nature trail, butterfly garden, manatee movie, 900-foot-long tidal walk and 50-foot observation tower.
The Manatee Viewing Center is at 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach. It’s regular hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Nov. 1 through April 15, except all day on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, when it’s closed. The facility also closes at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
Since there is lots of walking involved, visitors are advised to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. The center’s boardwalks are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only trained service animals are permitted on site.
Last year, the Manatee Viewing Center attracted more than 450,000 visitors and more than seven million since it opened in December 1986. As always, admission and parking are free. The center was listed No. 2 in USA Today’s 2023 10 Best Readers’ Choice travel awards for best free attractions in the United States, second only to The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s a great place to enjoy being outdoors, learn about nature, get some steps in and spend time with family or friends,” Woodless said. “Everything is free, except for gift shop items or snack bar foods.”
For more information, visit www.TampaElectric.com/Manatee or call 813-228-4289.