Visitors Love Tourism Treasure: County Parks

Word spreads of scope, diversity of outdoor amenities

Hillsborough County parks no longer are well-kept secrets, known almost exclusively to local residents.

Out-of-county visitors increasingly are finding their way to local parks and campgrounds.

Glen Pla, host of Spectrum Sports' "Average Angler" and "Out There" segments, makes a living telling television and online viewers about interesting outdoor experiences. He and videographer Grant Rice recently taped a segment featuring Edward Medard Conservation Park. It has hiking and equestrian trails, disc golf, a boardwalk, a playground, picnic shelters, campgrounds, and a 700-acre reservoir popular with boaters. After traversing much of Florida, Glen decided to look closer to home, in the Tampa Bay area. "We knew there were lots of stories here in Hillsborough," he says.

Bicyclist Amanda Coker brought national attention to Flatwoods Wilderness Park when she set records for miles pedaled in one year. Riding on the County-managed park's 7-mile "Loop" trail, she broke the women's annual mileage record in about four months, and the men's mark after less than 11 months. Now, after establishing the new record of more than 86,000 miles in mid-May, Amanda still is pedaling around the Loop. She recently passed 100,000 miles, the equivalent of about four trips around the Equator.

More than ever, out-of-county campers enjoy the splendor and solitude of Hillsborough County parks, especially in cooler months. Lithia Springs and E.G. Simmons conservation parks are particularly popular with winter guests, who return home to tell family and friends about the woodsy gems.

The County wants to collect data to quantify that more people are coming to Hillsborough County for its parks. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence that the facilities are destinations, for residents and visitors alike.

Photo information: Glen Pla, red plaid shirt, conducts an interview at Edward Medard Conservation Park.