By Dr. Rob Norman
Here’s a great place for you to explore–The Schultz Preserve.
The land consists of 120 acres of restored estuarine and freshwater wetlands, artificial reefs, transitional communities and uplands. The Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve lies on a peninsula on the eastern coast of Hillsborough Bay, south of the Kitchen Nature Preserve, west of U.S. 41, at the western terminus of Kracker Ave. The Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve originated as the Port Redwing peninsula within an area formerly known as the “Kitchen”. The peninsula was created in the 1960s and 1970s by the deposition of spoil on 300 acres of seagrass beds, oyster bars, tidal flats, an island, mangroves, slatterns and coastal uplands. The dredging was conducted to create a shipping facility, and resulted in up to 14 ft. of spoil dredged from the bay bottom and subsequently piled on the peninsula. The port facility never materialized and the site lay fallow for over thirty years. During that time, the site became infested with Brazilian pepper, lead trees, cogon grass and other noxious weeds, and the open nature of the site made it a convenient area for the illegal dumping of tons of materials.
When did this first get protected? In 1995, the District and Hillsborough County’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) purchased the land and restoration was completed in August 2004. The ELAPP was established for the purpose of acquiring, preserving and protecting endangered and environmentally sensitive lands, beaches, parks and recreational lands in Hillsborough County. The restoration has allowed native plants to prosper on the preserve and seagrasses to flourish in tidal channels and lagoons.
The Alafia River watershed is the largest in Hillsborough County at 270,000 acres. The Alafia River runs for 25 miles and over 115,000 people live in the watershed area. Only 17 percent of this land is protected. Over 30 percent of the world’s phosphate comes from the Alafia’s Bone Valley.
My outdoors buddy Ed and I recently launched our kayaks near Bullfrog Creek off Hwy. 41 in Gibsonton and headed to the bay through tunnels of mangroves. After about an hour of paddling, we found a place along a sandy beach to land and pulled our kayaks onto the shore of the Schultz preserve.
Ed and I walked along the oyster bars that have formed in the tidal lagoon since the restoration that provide valuable habitat for coastal species. We found a trail and circled the tract of land, pausing along the way to admire the markings that an armadillo dug in the dirt and to examine various types of scat including the hair-filled samples of a bobcat. The land was alive with butterflies and birds and dragonflies. Among all this natural beauty, it was odd to see the immense towers of the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. While hiking or boating in the Schultz Preserve, you can also see the downtowns of St. Pete and Tampa and the Alafia River phosphate stacks.
Before we left to paddle back to our put-in spot, I did a quick walk-around to gather some trash to take back and beautify the land. If I drink four bottles of water, I try to take double the amount of items back that I brought in. I found eight pieces of refuse—bottles, cans, paper–and put it in my kayak with my four water bottles. I feel better that my impact on this lovely place has been low and I have helped make it better for the next visitor and for the environment.
As we paddled around the neighboring islands we saw the Audubon signs posted near the mangroves. Who was Schultz? The National Audubon Society began protecting Tampa Bay’s bird colonies in 1934. Only two islands, Green Key and Whiskey Stump Key in Hillsborough Bay, were protected by Sanctuary Warden Fred Schultz. Whiskey Stump Key is immediately north of the preserve and is where Fred Schultz and Idah lived.
A ferry has been proposed to leave from this area (from a non-protected spot) to MacDill Air Force Base that could take thousands of cars off the road and reduce CO2 significantly. As noted by Patricia Kemp of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club and many of my readers know, the ocean acidification produced by carbon dioxide emissions in seawater may have profound negative consequences for marine ecology.
The Schultz Preserve is available for recreational activities including picnicking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling and nature studies. You can drive to the preserve and do a hike and explore; you don’t have to go by boat.
To learn more about The Great Florida Outdoors, read about the Surface Water Improvement & Management (SWIM) Program and restoration efforts at WaterMatters.org.