That new hiking and biking trail along the Courtney Campbell Causeway just got a little more cool — at least at its eastern end.
That's because the city of Tampa on Friday opened a new, $100,000 playground at Cypress Point Park, the starting point for the trail on the Tampa side of the bay.
Even if you've never been to Cypress Point Park, you might have seen it. Fly into Tampa International Airport or drive into Tampa on the Howard Frankland Bridge, and its white-sand beach is easy to spot north of the bridge.
Trouble was, beyond that small beach, plus a few spots for fishing, a boardwalk, picnic shelters and a canoe launch, the park didn't offer much to families with small children.
The new 3,300-square foot playground is meant to change that, with half a dozen things to climb, spin around on or rock back and forth. Construction started in November. Funds came from the Community Investment Tax, the extra half-cent on Hillsborough County's sales tax that pays for schools, roads and other projects.
With this latest improvement, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said what was once a piece of scrubland has become a destination.
"Now families can come here and not just walk their dogs … not just fish a little bit, not just kite surf," he said, but can bring their kids "here to play, to enjoy the trail, to bring their bikes and ride."
And, yes, there are families in the area. Though best known for its shopping, dining and office parks, West Shore is home to about 13,000 residents, counting those in Carver City and Lincoln Gardens. Another 1,700 apartments or other units are coming.
Along with the new playground, Tampa has repaired the seawall and put a new restroom and concession building at Ben T. Davis Beach as amenities to the trail.
The nearly 6-mile trail opened from the Tampa side of the causeway to the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line in early September. Its centerpiece is the only car- and truck-free bridge over Tampa Bay. (The Friendship Trail Bridge alongside the Gandy Bridge closed in 2008.)
The Florida Department of Transportation built the span at a cost of $14.6 million with federal funds for pedestrian projects. Hillsborough County has budgeted $1.2 million for benches, shade structures, bike racks and other amenities along the trail.
Construction on a second 3-mile section will extend the trail to Clearwater by sometime in 2015. A connection to a trail along Clearwater's Bayshore Boulevard would take cyclists north into Safety Harbor.
"Think about going from this park, non-stop across the Courtney Campbell Causeway, then all the way up to Philippe Park," said Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance. "It's going to be one of the premier trails in the state of Florida."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.