By Brad Stager
Throughout much of Apollo Beach’s history, the lure of a waterfront attraction was elusive, with the beach that the name implies being more like an uninviting stretch of neglected Tampa Bay shoreline.
That has changed in recent years with projects by Hillsborough County and Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) improving a 2-acre portion that lies just southwest of TECO’s Big Bend Power Station with parking, shelters, toilets and landscaping to provide visitor access and preserve natural habitat for wildlife.
As an environmental land manager for Hillsborough County, Ross Dickerson has seen the changes for the better at what is now a popular SouthShore destination known as Apollo Beach Nature Preserve.
“We did what we set out to do, we brought the beach back to Apollo Beach,” he said. “Everybody out there loves that place, they treat it as their own.”
Unfortunately, the preserve has been closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and now for construction. A $360,000 improvement project is underway that includes an additional pavilion and a shell path, as well as refurbishing the sea wall and improving erosion control.
A 40-foot observation tower is under construction to improve the view of Tampa Bay and the skylines of St. Petersburg and Tampa, and also reveal things to visitors they don’t usually see from ground level.
“You’ll also be able to see the restoration which is on the east side of the property that a lot of people don’t know about because it was completed over a decade ago and it’s grown up so well that it’s hard to see,” said Dickerson. “This tower will let people get up high enough so they can look down into the tidal creek and maybe see manatees and dolphins back there using the restoration area.”
Dickerson added that the panoramic views will be accessible for all to see.
“One thing unique about the tower project is it’s going to be fully ADA accessible. It’s going to be a ramp system so anybody will be able to get to the top of the tower and look around Tampa Bay.”
According to Dickerson, Apollo Beach Nature Preserve should reopen to the public by mid-to-late July with the tower completed, but with work continuing on the pavilion beyond then because the construction company building it paused operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.