BAYPORT — As a kid growing up in Spring Hill in the 1970s, Ron Sutton remembers coming to Bayport Park with friends to fish for speckled trout and redfish. For the most part, he said, the 1.5-acre county park was devoid of any amenities, save for a ramshackle dock and a few picnic tables.
"There wasn't much here, not even a working bathroom," recalled Sutton. "You were pretty much on your own out here."
The 57-year-old Sutton was one of dozens of visitors to stop by Bayport Park on Thursday morning to check out the recently completed $1.24-million improvement project.
Most said they liked the new look, which includes paved parking lots, concrete walkways, new picnic and restroom facilities, plus an elevated boardwalk overlooking the water.
"It's very peaceful," said Lisa Moriarty of Spring Hill as she and her husband, Steve, enjoyed the view of the Gulf of Mexico from a bench on the park's new aluminum boardwalk. "This will be a nice little getaway to watch the sunset."
The park, at the west end of State Road 50, had been closed since November to allow workers time to complete the extensive work of transplanting trees, installing sewer and water lines and building new parking facilities.
Of the four county parks that provide direct access to the gulf, Bayport Park is probably the most popular with boaters. Often crowded during holidays and summer weekends, the park should benefit from the makeover that increased boat trailer parking spaces from 15 to 48. Parking for cars has more than doubled.
Despite the parking expansion, Patrick Jones of Brooksville fears it may not be enough.
"People have always flocked to this place during the holidays," Jones said. "And now that it's really nice, the crowds are only going to grow. I hope they have planned for that."
Although the original 1.5-acres remains intact, it has been expanded to include a portion of an adjacent 26-acre parcel leased from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The lushly landscaped area includes a 140-foot aluminum observation deck on the gulf side where visitors can watch boats and seabirds.
Gus Giannakopoulos, co-owner of the Bayport Inn, located down the road from the park, said he expects the renovations will make the park attractive to a whole new group of visitors.
"It's much nicer now," said Giannakopoulos, who plans to open a new snack stand at the park. "I think people are going to love coming here for the day."
Pat Brayton, a frequent user of the park's boat launching facilities, was among the first boaters to arrive Thursday morning. He said that the improved parking facilities will make it even more attractive to boaters.
"Parking used to be the hardest thing about coming here," he said. "Once you got your boat in the water you had to worry about finding a place for your trailer. A lot of people ended up getting tickets for parking in the wrong spot."
An official grand reopening ceremony for Bayport Park will be held May 15 at the park.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.