NEW TAMPA Move over Gwazi, SheiKra and Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens. A new playground ride – the zip line at New Tampa Nature Park – is attracting a lot of outdoor enthusiasts to a quiet corner of this sprawling community.
Young families are flocking to the 122-acre site tucked off Dona Michelle Drive to ride the 15- to 20-foot-high and 100-foot-long zip line in the play area. Even Mayor Bob Buckhorn gave the cable ride a try at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 26.
"It's my turn; I want to ride," 7-year-old Emily Headley said laughing, as she ran alongside the cable ride.
Emily of Meadow Pointe was among a half-dozen youngsters, including her 4-year-old brother Ben, who ran around, jumping and climbing on kid-friendly playground equipment at the park on a recent afternoon. They took turns cruising down the zip line.
Several children were repeat visitors from the day before, including Magnus Jin, 5, of Cross Creek.
"I like the zip line, because I like to swing on it," Magnus said, flashing a bright smile.
"It makes him feel like he is a superhero," Magnus's mother, Caroline Jin, chimed in.
That was a part of the city's vision for the park when construction began two years ago.
City parks and recreation officials hoped the park, nestled in a thicket of trees and wetlands southeast of bustling Interstate 75 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, would become an oasis for area children and nature lovers alike.
Lodi Rohrer of Tampa Palms sees the park project as a job well done. She and her 6-year-old daughter, Chloe, visited the park on two consecutive days last week.
"It's the zip line by far" that Chloe wanted to ride again, Rohrer said.
However, Rohrer was struck by the park's beauty and tranquil setting.
New Tampa Nature Park, 17001 Dona Michelle Drive, is sprinkled with pines, live oaks and other towering species of trees. The forest, wetlands and hammocks create an ideal environ for wildlife.
Unpaved nature trails finger their way through tree stands. Bird and nature lovers can take in the sights from wood bridges raised high above low-lying areas.
A half-mile paved trail winds through the park and connects to Hillsborough County's adjacent Flatwoods Wilderness Park. The two parks link up about 2 miles from Flatwoods' Bruce B. Downs Boulevard entrance.
Future plans call for adding a nature center and a treetops-type canopy ride or zip line at the city park.
"There is a lot of shade," Rohrer said. The paved trail "has a windy and smooth surface. We will be back to ride our bikes."
In a residential community with a burgeoning population of more than 55,000 and its major thoroughfare being widened to eight lanes, New Tampa may no longer appear to be a typical spot for a 122-acre nature park.
However, the park was originally envisioned in the mid-1980s by Ken Good, the man who developed Tampa Palms, which was annexed into the city in the early 1990s.
Financial problems kept the park from taking shape.
The city began planning the $900,000 park in 2003 and paid for it with the Community Investment Tax, a countywide sales tax dedicated to infrastructure projects.
After construction began, workers carved a windy park entrance at the end of Dona Michelle Drive adjacent to the Tampa Water Department Treatment Plant. The asphalt car path snakes along the east side of I-75 for about a half-mile to a small parking area.
That is where Jake Kochany, 35, of Heritages Isles, was spotted after his first bike ride, exploring the city-owned nature trail. After one visit, he is sold on the new park.
"I definitely want to bring friends and family from Michigan here," Kochany said.
"In this busy part of Tampa you have this preserve of natural Florida. It allows you to relax and exercise at the same time. It's peaceful."
Meanwhile, children hooped and hollered on the nearby zip line, enjoying the free playground ride.