Zenfolio | April L. Gustetter | UPPER TAMPA BAY PARK - Tampa, Fla.

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UPPER TAMPA BAY PARK
8001 Double Branch Road
Tampa, FL 33635
(813) 855-1765

Upper Tampa Bay Park is a 596-acre County Park managed by Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation an Conservation Department. Visitors to the park can enjoy picnicking, hiking, nature study, bird watching, canoeing/kayaking, and fishing. The park’s canoe/kayak launch provides access to the Double Branch Creek and over five miles of natural shoreline along Old Tampa Bay.

Combined as a single unit, Upper Tampa Bay Park, Bower Tract (1,549 acres), and Rocky Creek Coastal Preserve (279 acres) total 2,424 acres and function together as an ecological system. The Upper Tampa Bay Park was developed as a County Park in the early 1980s and contains picnic areas with shelters and a playground, trails and boardwalks, a canoe/kayak launch and a nature center. The nature center consists of two separate buildings, one of which houses displays, offices and a meeting area, and the other a classroom used by the Hillsborough Community College Environmental Studies Program. The Bower Tract was purchased in 1986 by the State under the CARL Program, and is leased to Hillsborough County for management as a preservation area. The Rocky Creek Coastal Preserve was purchased by the County, with funds from the ELAP Program, in 1992.

The site encompasses highly valued coastal wetlands on Old Tampa Bay. The majority of the historical coastal wetlands in the upper bay, including mangrove swamp, salt marsh, tidal creeks and seagrass beds, have been destroyed by coastal development, and much of this site was under threat as well. These remaining wetlands provide critical habitat for the plants and animals that form the foundation of the estuarine ecosystem, one of the most productive natural systems on the planet. The site also includes extremely rare coastal upland natural communities. Upper Tampa Bay Park contains the most upland habitat, with pine flatwoods, oak hammock, and cabbage palm hammock. Small freshwater marshes are scattered through the uplands. Similar uplands can be found in a much smaller area of the Bower Tract, between Double Branch Creek and Channel “A”, while the Rocky Creek Coastal Preserve consists almost entirely of tidal wetlands.
The launch is great...but bring a friend (or wheels), as it's a good distance from the parking lot!To the left of the launch is the bulk of Double Branch Creek...not the route I took ;-)Wanting as much variety as possible, I paddled right on Double Branch Creek, toward the Bower Tract.Along the way would be rogue mangrove sprouts...I could relate ;-)Still researching what it is that creates these shallow holes...will update when I figure it out.Save for one boat that left the area soon after I arrived, I was alone on Double Branch Creek.This boardwalk is the last sign of civilization on the way to Old Tampa Bay.On the "main drag" of the creek, there is a large oyster bar – kept my distance (not yak-friendly).Toward the left is the Bower Tract, straight ahead is the way to Old Tampa Bay.This was a very scenic and serene paddle, with much natural beauty.Mangroves abound here...part of the critical habitat of this estuarine ecosystem.An aerial view of this part of Tampa Bay reveals the adventure that is the Bower Tract.Mangroves thrive in salty environments because they are able to obtain fresh water from saltwater.Mangrove prop roots protect and offer habitat to invertebrates that filter water, such as oysters.Prop roots also support juvenile fish, mammals, amphibians, and countless unique plants.Florida's mangrove forests contribute to the overall health of the state's southern coastal zone.My first Lesser Yellowlegs sighting.The shorelines were replete with oysters.This was about the only time the sun ducked behind clouds. Beware: NO SHADE on this paddle.I didn't realize it at the time, but I was just around the bend from Old Tampa Bay.