Plant City’s massive McIntosh Regional Park is getting a makeover thanks to a new grant from the 2018 State Legislature and funding from the city.
A hidden gem found along Paul S. Buchman Highway is getting some upgrades thanks to a grant agreement from the State Legislature. McIntosh Regional Park opened in 2015 as a passive park, allowing the public to enjoy its approximately 363 acres, the eastern 100 of which are wetlands.
The large section of land was purchased in 1998 for $1.1 million by the Florida Communities Trust
and the Hillsborough County Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program. In May of 2015, the park opened with man-made walking, hiking and mountain-bike trails and a few secluded areas for the public to bask in the beauty of the largely untouched park.
The natural preserve will be using $300,000 from the 2018 State Legislature as well as $300,000 from the city to establish a more than two mile walking trail, a much-needed parking lot, a wildlife viewing platform, informational kiosk and trail educational signage.
“Right now there’s what I would call ‘rudimentary trials,’” City Manager Bill McDaniel said. “Basically we go out and we mow a path through the tall grass for people who want to walk around. The funding we have and the plan we’re working on is to put in more formalized trails and a trail system with appropriate signing, picnic tables, and a parking lot, a good parking lot. It needs that very much.”
Because of the basic amenities at the park, few even know of its existence, let alone frequent the preserve. Making the blissful ambiance of the preserve more accessible to the public it serves is the main goal for the city, according to McDaniel. He said the ball will now be rolling “rather quickly” over in McIntosh Regional Park.
When it originally opened, then-city manager Mike Herr told the Observer he hoped the property would one day attract both locals and tourists who wish to “take advantage” of Plant City’s natural landscape. He said it had “some of the best-featured tracts that Plant City has to offer.”
According to the city, future plans for the approximately 260 non-wetland acres of the park include having low-intensity amenities like disc golf, pavilions and a vast variety of trails. Nature observation will be prevalent throughout the property.
The eastern portion of the park is where the wetlands lie. The network of waterways at the site help improve overall water quality in the area. The 100-acre prairie wetland area has the capability of removing up to 50% of the pollutants that seep into the Hillsborough River from that section of the county, according to the city.
The Eastside Canal, which drains 6,300 acres of urban and rural land, flows through the wetlands before it merges with the river at Two Rivers Ranch.
The city is currently in an evaluation process now with SWFMD and some other regulatory agencies to see what can be done to increase and further enhance the water quality of the wetlands. They may one day add a flood control element —water retention— to help both increase the flooding and enhancing the natural cleanup of the water.
Nothing is finalized, but the section will be heavily examined so the park can do the most good for the
area. It’s merely in the preliminary phase of planning to study the area, but the hope is soon partnerships can be made to jumpstart the plan.
“I’m very excited about it,” McDaniel said. “I don’t want to oversell it because it’s a multi-year process to do this. I mean nobody is going to see anything changing out there next week. But we are actively pursuing these strategies that would make better use of the property, potentially provide benefit to the neighbors and the area as a whole. If we improve the water quality system that helps everybody… I do not know if that’s possible yet. We are studying it.”