WESLEY CHAPEL — Under cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70s, Ricky Smith made the decision: He was going to get wet.
"I took baby steps on my way in and found the courage to put my head under,'' said Smith, 44, of Wesley Chapel.
He popped up, dove under a second time and then headed for the shore.
But he wasn't at a Gulf of Mexico beach. Smith was in his own neighborhood of Epperson and he was venturing in for a maiden dip in the nation's first Crystal Lagoon. The lagoon, a 7.5-acre man-made lake and beach featuring clean, clear, purified water, opened Dec. 8, nearly seven months later than planned.
Pasco County issued a stop-work order for the Metro Development Group project in May after a fire inspector discovered workers had constructed 11 buildings and eight cabanas without the proper building permits. The wait finally ended last weekend and Epperson residents rejoiced.
"It's gorgeous,'' said Linda Seelman. She and her husband, Scott, own a house in Epperson and in Chicago and try to visit Florida monthly.
"One of the main reasons we bought here was because of the lagoon,'' she said after registering to use it.
The lagoon, with water slides, a swim-up bar, surf shop and covered area with a stage, is the centerpiece amenity in the Epperson development. It is planned for 2,000 homes and is three miles north of State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel. Metro Development Group also is building Crystal Lagoons at its projects at Southshore Bay in southern Hillsborough and at Mirada, north of Epperson in Pasco County.
The water, however, is not heated.
"It felt like it had to be at least in the 30s,'' Smith said.
It was his second visit, but the first time he went for a swim. Afterward, he used his phone to shoot pictures while he allowed the air to dry him.
He didn't bring a towel.
Contact C.T. Bowen at email@example.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.