Hillsborough County purchased the property known as Bahia Beach Nature Preserve in 2001.
Intended as a restoration effort, the county collaborated with several agencies to convert the landscape into an ecologically functional wetland.
The changes help purify water flowing into the neighboring salt marshes, and provide an attractive environment for many bird species.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.4 mile round-trip
Trailhead: 27.720926, -82.464003
Address: 2513 Shell Point Road, Ruskin
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
From Interstate 75, head west on College Ave for 2.7 miles before turning right onto S Tamiami Trail. In half a mile, turn left onto W Shell Point Rd. The parking area is on the right side of the road in 1.8 miles.
From the parking area, pass though a gap in the fence next to a red blazed post. A small clearing narrows to a wide grassy trail as it continues northward.
Smilax vines climb over pines, cabbage palms, and juniper that border the trail on both sides.
Although the path is clear and well-maintained, the terrain underfoot can be tricky, with many dips that are difficult to detect in the grass.
At a tenth of a mile, a break in the trees begins to reveal a pond to the right. The distinctive laughter-like call of coots fills the air.
They may be visible floating on the calm waters in the distance.
Tall stalks of goldenrod shoot out of trailside grasses, their vibrant yellow plume-like blooms swaying in the breeze.
Clusters of bidens alba bloom alongside the trail, covered in small white flowers that are typically swarmed by pollinators.
Continue to follow intermittent red blazes, passing a young cypress tree, and tall longleaf pines covered in Spanish moss.
At 0.2 mile, another pond becomes visible on the left side of the trail.
Great blue herons casually wade along the shorelines while high pitched calls from flocks of black bellied whistler ducks can be heard as they fly swiftly overhead.
Pelicans float gracefully on the shallow waters, searching for a meal with their large yellow beaks.
Before you hit a half mile, the trail can become wet, and may be inundated with water.
White peacock butterflies flutter underfoot, feeding on the nectar from small flowers interspersed among green carpets of grass.
The trail continues for another 0.3 mile, with a spectacular view of wetlands on both sides.
Kingfishers chitter as they glide in circles over the water, looking for an opportunity to dive onto an unsuspecting fish.
The opportunities for bird watching make the 0.7-mile trek back to the trailhead as exciting as the hike out.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Located on the banks of the Little Manatee River, Camp Bayou Nature Preserve provides an easygoing set of trails through a variety of natural Florida habitats.
Along an ecologically important creek basin that empties into Tampa Bay, two loop trails traverse an intriguing environment that slowly transitions from fresh to salt water.
Two connected trails along the south side of the Little Manatee River explore a variety of habitats on former ranches now protected by Hillsborough County as Little Manatee River Corridor Nature Preserve.