Lithia and its surrounding area residents will soon have one more place to enjoy the great outdoors that will include a wide variety of recreational opportunities.
That’s because the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board recently approved a land management plan for the Chito Branch Reserve in southeastern Hillsborough County located around the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in Lithia.
According to Senior Land Use Specialist Gina Sowders, the district purchased the 5,515-acre reserve in 2001 in cooperation with Tampa Bay Water for the primary purpose of building the 16-billion-gallon reservoir to collect and store drinking water. The reservoir is built on 1,100 acres. The remaining property consists of a variety of habitats, including wetlands, pine and scrubby flatwoods, scrub, freshwater marshes and improved pasture.
“It is a lot of fun to see an area developing into a place so useful to the public,” Sowders said.
While protecting the area’s natural resources, the district has determined that hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, primitive camping, wildlife observation, interpretive uses, nature study, outdoor nature photography, picnicking and trail running are recreational opportunities compatible with these objectives.
Public input and comments were solicited at a noticed public meeting last summer during the drafting of this plan. Approximately 26 people attended, nine of which completed a questionnaire form about their recreational interest for Chito Branch Reserve. The results of the questionnaire included 63 percent equestrian uses, 50 percent primitive camping, 38 percent biking, 25 percent nature study, 13 percent hiking and 13 percent photography.
However, Sowders said that the district must finish constructing the parking area, marking trails and completing the other infrastructure to accommodate recreation. 
“This work is expected to be fully completed by next spring,” she said.
 As part of the plan, the district will be responsible for managing the reserve’s natural resources and for accommodating recreational usage.  Tampa Bay Water will continue to manage the operations of the reservoir.
Of course, anyone who would be interested in volunteering to help maintain the trails, which would include trail work, trash pick-up or trimming branches, may contact the Southwest Florida Water Management Board.
For more information, please visit Southwest Florida Water Management at or call 1-800-423-1476.

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