Camp Bayou Nature Preserve
Camp Bayou Nature Preserve in Ruskin is one of Hillsborough County’s hidden gems. This 160- acre parcel of conservation land along the Little Manatee River boasts a nature center, fossil museum, kayak and canoe launch, hiking trails, beautiful butterfly garden and more! Visitors can hike the sandy trails, fish or birdwatch by the water, or bring their own vessel for a paddling trip along the river.
If you’ve been to Camp Bayou before, you may notice a big and recent change as you drive down 24th Street. The oaks and underbrush have been cleared out, and pine trees dominate a now-sunny parcel of land! This hardwood reduction project was completed in early 2021 to help restore this area to its natural state. Fire exclusion over decades caused this area, previously open scrub and pine flatwoods, to become overgrown. Now that the shade is gone, native scrub plants should begin to re-sprout here. With careful monitoring and the proper application of prescribed fire, this entire area will slowly return to a functioning scrub and pine flatwoods ecosystem.
The hardwood reduction project isn’t the only difference at Camp Bayou this year. Previously, visitors could access the river every day for fishing, kayaking, and picnicking by driving to the end of 24th Street. Although that spot is now closed for habitat restoration, we’ve made some changes to make access easy for all! The nature center and boat ramp area used to be operated by volunteers from Thursday to Saturday. Now, County employees open the visitor’s center up from Monday to Wednesday, and BOLD provides volunteers from Thursday through Sunday. Because of these new developments, the kayak launch inside the preserve is now available for access seven days a week!
The County is also working to revitalize the interior of Camp Bayou by replacing signs, adding shell to the parking lot, restoring the native plant nursery, and holding guided hikes and paddles to supplement those led by BOLD every month. They’ll also be conducting land management activities like trail maintenance, prescribed fire, invasive species removal, and more to keep Camp Bayou healthy for the unique plant and animal species who thrive in this beautiful place.