GIVE BACK: BUILD AN OYSTER BAR
Heads up, oyster lovers. Here's your chance to help Tampa Bay Watch install an oyster shell bar on the shoreline of Fantasy Island, the tiny spoil island near Ruskin. The environmental watchdogs of Tampa Bay Watch are recruiting volunteers to join them Sept. 15 to shovel fossilized shells into mesh bags, transport the bags via boat and place the oyster shell bags on the shoreline to create a series of oyster bars. "This project will restore lost habitat systems to the bay, prevent further erosion of the shoreline and improve water quality through natural biological filtration," said Rachel Arndt, the agency's communications coordinator. It is pretty physical labor, with oyster shell bags weighing around 30 pounds each, so volunteers need to be at least 15 years old. Meet at the Williams Park Boat Ramp, 8749 U.S. 41 in Riverview, at 9 a.m. The boat ramp is on the west side of U.S. 41 at the north side of the Alafia River. (727) 867-8166. Register at tampabaywatch.org.
CANOE TRIP: HILLSBOROUGH ECO TOURS
In its efforts to promote ecotourism, Hillsborough County offers guided paddling tours of the rivers of the Green Swamp, which has some of the prettiest nature scenes of the area. Hillsborough County's Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department maintains more than 75,000 acres of nature preserves and parks. Andrew Fairbanks, the department's environmental outreach coordinator, conducts many of the eco tours for the department, and his favorite even comes with rapids. It's a trek from Alderman's Ford to Lithia Springs, both of which are regional parks. Another popular canoe trip features mangrove tunnels in Cockroach Bay south of Ruskin, one of the county's most diverse nature preserves. "This site also boasts a wonderful panoramic view atop 'Mount Cockroach,' " Fairbanks said, "which is a relic of shell-mining in the area prior to a major restoration project there." You can rent two-person canoes for $25 and the guide fee is $5 per person for a group of at least 10. Call (813) 672-7876 and ask for Fairbanks. Hillsborough parks with put-ins include Alderman's Ford, E.G. Simmons, Edward Medard, Lettuce Lake, Little Manatee and Upper Tampa Bay. hillsboroughcounty.org/conservation.
HOOFING IT: HORSE TRACK 5K
There are a lot of 5Ks to choose from, but it's not often you can run on an actual race track. The Tampa Bay Downs horse track in Oldsmar is opening its track to two-footed runners for the first time on Sept. 17 for a 5K that lets people trot on the track where a Kentucky Derby winner once ran. The Recstravaganza: Hoofin' It 5K is a fundraiser for the Tampa Bay United Soccer Club's recreational soccer scholarships. Runners will gallop on a loop around the grounds and stable areas with the last 150 yards run on the racetrack to finish at the track's actual finish line. The surface is a combination of asphalt, hard-packed sand and the dirt race track. If the race sells out, you can still find family activities at the horse track that day, including a soccer ball drop from a helicopter, a hole-in-one contest at Tampa Bay Downs driving range and foot golf, which puts soccer skills to use on a golf course. It's $30 for the 5K; $15 for youth fun run registration. The race begins at 7:30 a.m. 11225 Race Track Road near Oldsmar. (813) 792-7757. Register at tbusc.com.
GREAT GEAR: FIND THE RIGHT PADDLE
The waterways around Tampa Bay are ideal for stand-up paddleboarding, which is why you are seeing so many around these days. There's even a regular paddleboarding social meetup Tuesdays at 6 p.m. at North Shore Park Beach in St. Petersburg. If you are thinking about getting a paddleboard, consider first what size paddle you're looking for. Paddle manufacturer Kialoa suggest you consider posture, paddling style, shoulder and arm size, strength, board size and average water conditions as important factors. For touring or paddling for fitness or yoga, add 6 to 10 inches to your height to determine the right length. The gear testers at OutdoorGearLab gave their editors' choice award to the Kialoa Insanity Fiberglass Adjustable, which starts at $130, as a great lightweight adjustable SUP paddle. "The combination of the light blade and easy-on-your body shaft provides a high performance feel that promotes both quick and leisurely cadences," testers wrote. The Bullet Proof Surf Alloy at $80 was rated a best buy because the rugged paddle with a nylon blade had the largest amount of height adjustment, which is great if you have a large family using the same paddle.