Lettuce Lake Park opened in 1982 near the USF campus and quickly became a hub for activity. Prior to this time Lettuce Lake Park area was used primarily for cattle grazing, hunting and fishing. Today, this 240-acre site has proved to be one of the most successful parks in Hillsborough County, with well over one million visitors annually. No wonder it is so popular, it is simply beautiful, and it’s a great place for bird watchers.
More than half of the park’s property lies in the natural floodplain of the Hillsborough River, consisting of a hardwood swamp forest, which provides a natural storage reservoir for floodwater and helps to improve the water quality. The remainder of Lettuce Lake Park consists of hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods plant communities. Fitness enthusiasts can enjoy the park’s 1.25-mile bicycle path/jogging trail, complete with a fitness course and a playground for the kids. (Although it is so pretty, it doesn’t appear many visitors are using the path for serious fitness purposes.)
Nature lovers can either hike, kayak or fish on their own, or take a $5 guided nature tour on Saturdays and Sundays, where park rangers take participants through the 3,500 feet of boardwalk along the scenic Hillsborough River. The rangers will also highlight many native plants, a variety of birds, and usually even an alligator or two. Visitors can check out the interpretive center and its exhibits before strolling to a three-story observation tower where they can view an extensive variety of wildlife.
After completing their nature tours, visitors can access the park’s wooded ADA accessible picnic areas and shelters, as well as picnic tables, restrooms, recycling bins, and barbecue grills.
Visitors that come to the park experience a wide range of wildlife and unique fauna. Alligators, armadillos, tortoises, leather back snapping turtles, and a variety of snails can be scouted on the boardwalk trail. The
Tampa Audubon Society volunteers at Lettuce Lake Park by pointing out the many birds that can be found during your visit, ranging from Wood Ducks, Canadian Geese and Swans to Cormorants, Little Blue and Great Blue Heron(s), Roseate Spoonbills and even to a Mom raising her baby Osprey in a lofty nest. Other birds spotted during one day’s visit in the spring included a unique Barred Owl, American White Pelicans, Red Cardinal, Hummingbirds, Wood Storks, Sandhill Cranes, American Oystercatcher and a Swallow Tail Kite. Believe it or not, the variety of beautiful birds is too long to list. This is one of the most active bird communities in Hillsbourough County.
The unusual flora and fauna and friends at Lettuce Lake Park can keep visitors guessing what type of plant or animal they are viewing. The Button Bush was most prolific, but with a closer look at nature you can find pink snail eggs, butterfly cocoons, and dozens more of colorful butterfly species.
Natural History at Lettuce Lake:
The Hillsborough River originates in the Green Swamp about 25 miles northwest and borders Lettuce Lake Park on two sides. Lettuce Lake is not actually a lake, but a shallow, finger-like body of water connected to the river at one end. Only during periods of high water, part of the river flows “short-cuts” across the swamp forest and through the Park. More than half of the Lettuce Lakes Park’s property lies in the natural floodplain of the Hillsborough River and consists of hardwood swamp forest. This feature provides a natural storage reservoir of floodwater and helps improve the quality of the water acting as a biological filter to remove excess nutrients. The remainder of the park consist of hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods plant communities.
A major objective of the Park’s development has been the preservation of the land’s natural features, so visitors may have an opportunity to observe the native flora and fauna of this part of Florida. More than 300 species of plants have been identified in Lettuce Lake Park.
ARC at the PARK
The Audubon Resource Center at Lettuce Lake Park, also known as ARC at the PARK, holds programs that help connect people with nature. ARC also helps to foster
awareness for conservation, as well as overall environmental ethic in the Tampa Bay region. The educational focus of the ARC at the PARK is the Hillsbourough River ecosystem. The ARC contains a variety of fixed and rotating exhibits to help visitors better understand this vital resource.
Bird watching tours are held a couple of times per month. The Audubon family programs are scheduled for the second Saturday of most months (reservations are required).
The ARC at the PARK is operated by the Tampa Audubon Society, and is made possible in partnership with the Hillsbourough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Departments. For additional information visit www.tampaaudubon.org. They have two guided tours: Beginning Bird Walk at Lettuce Lake Park, and a Native Plant Walk at Lettuce Lake Park. The entrance fee is just $2.00 per vehicle, and rentals are extra.
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