Apollo Beach Nature Preserve has reopened with a new 37-foot, ADA-compliant tower that allows everyone to get a bird’s-eye view of Tampa Bay to the west and wildlife to the east.

By Brad Stager

One of SouthShore’s most popular spots to enjoy sunshine and nature in a waterfront setting has reopened after closing in March to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and to complete a $360,000 improvement project.

The Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, which reopened on September 9, has been attracting crowds to its dog-friendly, 2-acre beach and view of Tampa Bay for years, and now visitors can get a better look at the scenery by going to the top of a 37-foot observation tower that is the centerpiece of the upgrade.

It’s an experience everyone of all levels of mobility can enjoy with the use of a wide, ADA-compliant ramp instead of a stairway as part of the tower’s design.

Besides landmarks like the Skyway Bridge and the urban skylines of Tampa and St. Petersburg, visitors ascending the tower will also get a bird’s-eye view at the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s wetland restoration to the east that provides habitat for wildlife, including birds, manatees and dolphins, within the estuary’s maze of mangrove and water.

The preserve also has restrooms, picnic pavilions and hiking trails. While swimming is not allowed because of strong currents, activities like fishing, kite-flying and bird-watching are popular among visitors.

Ross Dickerson works for Hillsborough County Conservation & Environmental Lands Management, which is responsible for the site. He said the project has turned out well and that “It’s more than we thought it would be, it’s fantastic.”

Dickerson added that ensuring everyone can get to the top of the tower has been appreciated by visitors.

“We’ve had several people that have told us that they were not able to get to the top of other observation towers in Hillsborough County and that they were so excited to be able to get up there,” he said.

Besides the tower, the project includes a new picnic pavilion, refurbishment of the sea wall and improved erosion control.

Even though the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve is reopened, there are restrictions in effect. Because of the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, all pavilions are closed until further notice and parking is limited to 50 percent of the paved lot’s spaces. Also, no more than 10 people are permitted to be on the tower at a time.

Apollo Beach Nature Preserve is located at 6760 Surfside Blvd. in Apollo Beach and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.