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Swiftmud prepares to take bids for the site planned as a "corporate retreat kind of thing."

In the midst of nearly 22,000 modern homes, New Tampa is about to get wilderness cabins.

"It's pretty much going to be a sleep cabin probably, and bare-bones at that," said John Brill, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. "It's not going to be the Hilton."

But it will be a novelty in New Tampa, where nine huge master-planned communities have sprung from the flanks of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard during the past two decades, replacing wilderness.

Most of it, anyway.

Sandwiched between Tampa Palms and Hunter's Green is the 8-square-mile Flatwoods Park, best known for its 7-mile looped bicycle trail. The forests and pine flatwoods of the park are home to deer, bobcats and water wells serving the city of Tampa.

For this, bobcats and in-line skaters alike can thank Hurricane Donna. The 1960 storm caused rain and flooding that hasn't been matched since. Donna frightened the state into creating the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, and through it, buying up 25 square miles of land along the Hillsborough River. The land was preserved to store floodwaters.

Wells and parks came in the 1970s. Like the rest of New Tampa, they were master-planned.

Government agencies, less nimble than developers, have worked through five phases and $8.3-million since then, methodically developing Flatwoods and seven other major recreation centers in the area.

The eight wilderness cabins that Hillsborough County plans to undertake late next year were planned in the 1980s. They will be the final puzzle piece, the first opportunity for people to spend the night in the park legally.

They also will be the first cabins in the county's park system, a feature more commonly found in state parks, Brill said.

"The concept is a corporate retreat kind of thing," he said.

The cabins will be 500 square feet, with hose connections outside but no plumbing inside, according to Swiftmud. Brill said the county plans to spend $200,000 to $250,000 on the cluster.

Swiftmud, still the landowner, is doing the heavy lifting. It's spending $1.8-million for a road, utilities, restrooms and showers for the cabins complex. If funding allows, Swiftmud also will build a picnic shelter, said Richard Mayer, the agency's project manager.

After meetings with Hillsborough officials last month, the water agency said it hoped to submit the project for bids by the end of August. Construction is slated for next spring.

Afterward, the county may have cabins built around the new road, or truck in prefabricated ones, Brill said.

"We want to be able to time it so we can go as soon as possible after they're done," he said.

Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or