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Thursday, Nov 23, 2017
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Cockroach Bay restored, ready for public debut

SUN CITY - The transformation of fallow farm fields into lush wetlands and vibrant uplands did not happen quickly. It took 21 years, 2,500 volunteers and at least 28 government agencies and environmental groups to get it done. Just days before Earth Day 42, celebrated each April 22 since 1970, the nature park is all but completed and is open to the public. The Cockroach Bay Project officially was dedicated Friday. Since Richard Sullivan became manager of the rural 651 acres in 1999, he has counted more than 300 species of birds on the property.
Experts have not begun to tally the species of fish, crabs, shrimp and other creatures that have moved onto this restored stretch of shoreline connecting to eastern Tampa Bay. "It was farmland and deep mining pits," Sullivan said. "Songbirds don't stop on farm fields." The project is celebrated internationally as restoration done right. The pay-as-you-go project was a joint effort of Hillsborough County's Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, with the state's Surface Water Improvement and Management, or SWIM program, designing and overseeing the restoration. For Brandt Henningsen, the SWIM environmental maestro behind the work, Friday was a sweet crescendo. "It's been very fulfilling," Henningsen said. "And it has truly been a team effort." If you go: The park is at 3709 Gulf City Road, Ruskin It is open from sunrise to sunset for hiking, photography and birding. There are no public restrooms. Guided canoe tours are anticipated soon.

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