In our eternal quest for dog-friendly places to visit, we decided to visit Apollo Beach Nature Preserve (where dogs are permitted on-leash). On the way, we saw that the well-known Manatee Viewing Center was only about a mile off of Rte 41. Having heard so much about this place, we made a detour for a quick visit.
The Center, open November 1 to April 15, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. Approximately 5M visitors come here annually! Located at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station, manatees started arriving in large numbers in the power station discharge channel in 1986.
When the bay reaches 68 degrees, manatees seek out warmer waters. Saltwater flows, clear and warm, back into the bay in this channel from the power plant. There is a boardwalk that leads to a large viewing area where manatees can be seen (although we did not see any during our visit). They hang out in different parts of the channel, depending on the warmth of the water. We also saw this great blue heron on the boardwalk railing near the observation area.
It is estimated that 600 manatees live in the Tampa Bay Area with approximately 5,000 in total in Florida. Adults are, on average, 10' long weighing 1,200 pounds, and are usually found in shallow water where they feed on vegetation. Scientists believe manatees evolved from a four-legged, plant-eating, land mammal 60 million years ago. Its closest modern-day relative is an elephant.
Another attraction we enjoyed here is the Sting Rays Touch Tank.
The 10,000-gallon, 600-square-foot tank, contains 15 cownose rays and southern Atlantic stingrays. It was really cool to touch these sleek, bottom dwellers that glide through the water with wave-like motions.
At the opposite end of the parking lot is the beginning of the Tidal Walk Nature Trail. A boardwalk found along the trail leads to the 50' Wildlife Observation Tower. Because the trail is not dog-friendly, we were not able to enjoy it (as we had Sadie with us).
This is a great family attraction, especially when hundreds of manatees are here.
Parking and admission is free at the Manatee Viewing Center, although there was a lot of traffic and visitors when we were there in the early afternoon on a Saturday. For additional information about the Manatee Viewing Center, go to this site www.tampaelectric.com/company/mvc/.
Continuing south on Rte 41, we came to the town of Apollo Beach and took a right on Apollo Beach Boulevard until it dead ends. The Apollo Beach Nature Preserve is on Surfside Blvd, to the right.
Dogs are permitted here (on leash) and Sadie had a blast swimming and meeting new friends.
The Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group (ABWIG,) in conjunction with other Hillsborough County agencies, undertook a major improvement program in 2017 in the area to mitigate beach erosion and implement dune restoration programs. Eight lime rock breakwaters were installed to reduce future erosion.
Also, the North, South, and Main channels were dredged making them deeper and wider for boaters and fishermen. The dredged sand was used to create two beautiful beaches. The 5-acre upper beach is where we spent the afternoon. The grand re-opening was held in October, 2016.
We had a picnic lunch and then spent some time exploring the lower (2.5 acre) beach where the fish are more plentiful.
Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station is located nearby and can be seen in the distance.
Two picnic shelters and restrooms are located near the entrance of the preserve. It was a lovely day at this tranquil setting for us all.
You can get up-to-date info about the preserve at the ABWIG Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ABWIG/.