Hillsborough County founded the Upper Tampa Bay Park in 1982 to provide a protected area for nature study and passive recreation. The Park also helps protect valuable coastal habitat and ecological communities that include mangrove forests, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, coastal hammocks and pine flatwoods. This 596-acre peninsular park is bordered on the east by Double Branch Creek and on the south and west by Old Tampa Bay. The Park contains rich and diverse natural habitats that result from the subtle interaction of moisture and salinity. Due to the environmentally sensitive nature of Upper Tampa Bay Park, development has been kept to a minimum. Small and large group picnic shelters adjoin an open playfield with a sand volleyball court. The playground is centrally located, and nature trails and boardwalks provide access to undeveloped areas. A canoe/kayak launch provides access to the creek and bay, excellent places for game fish including red drum and snook. The nature center houses interpretive exhibits that describe the park environment, history and geology. Live animal displays include fish, snakes and turtles. The ground surface in Upper Tampa Bay Park is nearly flat, with the highest elevation at only six feet above sea level. As a result, much of the Park becomes flooded during extremely high tides that occur several times each year. Plant and animal species that thrive here have some degree of salt tolerance. The majority of uplands in the Park are dominated by pine flatwoods; scattered slash and longleaf pine trees with a dense understory of shrubs and grasses. Here visitors may see gopher tortoises, zebra swallowtail butterflies and even bobcats. Shallow fresh water ponds throughout Upper Tampa Bay Park provide habitat for aquatic plants and animals and improve drainage for the surrounding areas. Live oaks and other hardwood trees often grow near these wetlands, where redshouldered hawks and bald eagles are sometimes seen. As the Park ground slopes gently toward the bay, the pines and palmettos give way to palm trees, shrubs and grasses that can survive occasional flooding. Closer to the shoreline, visitors may see a strip of sand devoid of all vegetation; this is a salt barren. High tidal water gets trapped here and evaporates, concentrating salt in the soil and limiting plant life; yet some life, such as fiddler crabs, thrives here. Beyond the salt barren lies the shoreline, occupied almost exclusively by mangroves and salt marsh grasses. The shoreline and waters attract Park wildlife and many other species, including roseate spoonbills, ospreys, otters, bottle nosed dolphins and manatees.
Upper Tampa Bay Regional Park
Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department