|This three site complex is treated as one due to the
ecological continuity of habitat
and because all three are
owned and managed by Hillsborough County. Simmons Park was created
in the 1960ís by dredging
and filling an area of 258 acres of mangrove swamp along the southeast
shoreline of Tampa Bay.
Another 200 acres of intact wetlands was donated to the County as a
wildlife sanctuary. The Wolf
Branch Preserve, bordering Simmons Park on the east, was purchased
by the Hillsborough County ELAP Program in 1993, and the ELAP Program also acquired the
Bahia Beach Restoration
site, south of the park, in 2001.
Location and Access
E. G. Simmons Park is
located between Ruskin and Apollo Beach, on Tampa Bay. Turn west from
US 41 onto 19th Avenue NW,
and turn right at the stop sign to reach the park entrance. Wolf
Branch Preserve is located
along the north side of 19th Avenue NW, between Villemarie Road and
Simmons Park. There are
three access points to the preserve for foot traffic during daylight hours.
One gate is located on 19th
Avenue, 3/4 of a mile west of Villemarie Road, and two gates are
located on Villemarie Road,
one on the west side before the bridge over Wolf Branch Creek, and
the other on the north side,
just after the 90 degree turn at Wolf Branch Creek. The Bahia Beach
Restoration Site is not currently
open to the public due to scheduled restoration activity.
Wolf Branch Preserve and E.
G. Simmons Park encompass a three mile stretch of the shoreline of
Tampa Bay, including
mangrove islands, mangrove swamp shoreline, the mouth of Wolf Branch
Creek, and extensive seagrass beds. The preserve also includes intact coastal wetlands behind the
consisting of salt barrens, high marsh and coastal hammock. The higher upland
area of Wolf Branch Preserve
was cleared many decades ago and used first for tomato farming,
and later for cattle grazing
and shell mining. The old pastures and shell pits have recently
undergone restoration by the
Southwest Florida Water Management District SWIM Department,
and now consist of
interconnected tidal wetlands and newly planted upland areas that will
become pine flatwoods and
coastal hammock. The Bahia Beach Restoration site contains some
areas of natural coastal
hammock but the majority of the site consisted of citrus groves. The Districtís
SWIM Department plans to
create a system of man-made wetlands and uplands to collect
and treat stormwater runoff from adjacent areas to improve the water quality and
provide additional tidal wetlands habitat for the Tampa Bay estuary.
Simmons Park provides a swimming beach, picnic shelters, restrooms, a boat
launch, fishing platforms and overnight camping. This is one of the most popular
parks in Hillsborough County, especially during the winter for campers and
during the summer for beachgoers. Fishing is excellent in and around the park,
and a special permit is available for after hours access for fishermen. Wolf
Branch Preserve is open to foot traffic during daylight hours, but no marked
trail system is currently available. A trail system is under development through
a partnership with the developer of MiraBay, a new residential community located
just east of the preserve. Once completed, the trail will feature a parking
area, shell pathway and interpretive displays.
EG Simmons Park offers
ranger assistant positions for volunteers to help with all routine management
activities. Wolf Branch
Preserve needs documentation of wildlife utilization in the restoration
area, as well as assistance
with exotic control and site security.
Hillsborough County Parks,
Recreation and Conservation Department, 1101 E. Rivercove Drive,
Tampa, FL 33604, (813)
E. G. Simmons County Park, 2401 19th Avenue NW, Ruskin
FL 33570. (813) 671-7655.
Office, 10940 McMullen Road, Riverview, FL 33569. (813) 672-7876.