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Good times roll for outdoor exploring at Camp Bayou

Habitat restoration, expanded hours worthy of celebrating

It may not be New Orleans, but locals longing for Bayou Country this week of Mardi Gras can venture to Hillsborough County's Camp Bayou Nature Preserve & Outdoor Learning Center.

The 160-acre site along the Little Manatee River was acquired under the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) in 1990. It is part of a system of connected conservation lands, including Little Manatee River State Park, that protect habitat along the banks of the Little Manatee River.

Don't let the name fool you: There's no camping at Camp Bayou, but it's a great place to spend a day paddling, bird watching, hiking, and enjoying nature.

Here's what's new with Camp Bayou:

  • The former location at the end of 24th Street that provided river access daily for kayak and canoe launching is now closed for habitat restoration.
  • The addition of on-site County staff Monday through Wednesday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the expansion of nature center hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, means the kayak and canoe launch inside the nature center compound is now open seven days a week so visitors can continue to enjoy daily river access.
  • In addition to habitat restoration, the County's Conservation & Environmental Lands Management staff will conduct land management activities such as invasive plant removal.

Other highlights of Camp Bayou worthy of exploring are the Outdoor Learning Center and Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum.

The Outdoor Learning Center:

  • Offers a variety of field trip and nature education programs, including a monthly guided paddle on the Little Manatee River.
  • Is operated by volunteers and supported by local donors.
  • Has a wonderful collection of natural history materials and many native artifacts.
  • Volunteers are knowledgeable about the natural and human history of the area.

The Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum:

Provides an amazing glimpse into Florida's long-ago past through a collection of more than 20,000 fossils uncovered from the Leisey Shell Pit in Ruskin.Specimens include mastodon, saber-toothed cat, bear, giant crocodile, and many more, some of which lived almost 2 million years ago in a very different Florida.