TECO team members stood atop the hill, looked around, and it was good

TECO team members and other volunteers hard at work along McKay Bay.

TECO team members and other volunteers hard at work along McKay Bay.

“I didn’t even know that hill was there until today!” said Christina Arenas, environmental program manager with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, as she surveyed the hard work by TECO volunteers and others to restore the natural habitat along the McKay Bay Greenway. Suddenly, with the removal of highly invasive lead trees and Brazilian pepper, new contours in the landscape revealed themselves – along with the power of teamwork to make a difference in the environment that everyone can appreciate.

If you’ve never been to the greenway, now is the perfect time: the weather is ideal, it’s part of the Great Florida Birding Trail (West Coast Section) and it’s one more hidden environmental gem in an area filled with them – places that bring unique value to the community and make the Tampa Bay area a better place to live…and perhaps an even more outstanding place to move to and experience for the first time.

And now, thanks to volunteers, it more closely captures the beauty of natural Florida.

Stan Kroh holds up a lead tree bean pod...which can create all kinds of problems for native habitats.

Stan Kroh holds up a lead tree bean pod…which can create all kinds of problems for native habitats.

“Species like lead trees can very easily spread and overtake an ecosystem, choking out natural plants and causing several problems – from increasing shoreline erosion to keeping certain animals and bird life from being able to nest and thrive,” said Stan Kroh, manager of Land and Stewardship Programs with Tampa Electric’s Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) team. “We were excited to be able to build on the work we did here earlier in the year. All it takes is a little time and a lot of cooperation to achieve big results.”

Joining EHS team members were others from TECO’s Accounting and Real Estate departments; they worked alongside people with the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County. Like TECO team members’ earlier visit, gunfire from the nearby Tampa Police Department shooting range clapped in the distance and chainsaws buzzed as they cut through lead tree trunks, sending the invasive species toppling to the ground with the crack of splintering wood.

Along McKay Bay, as seen from the observation tower that also provides spectacular views of downtown Tampa to the west.

Along McKay Bay, as seen from the observation tower that also provides spectacular views of downtown Tampa to the west.

While this group removed tons of plants that crowd out native mangroves along the water, another group of TECO volunteers planted oak and cypress trees at nearby DeSoto Park.

“Taking out the invasive species and adding native species in one great day of volunteerism adds up to a healthier ecosystem,” Kroh said. “It’s challenging physical work but well worth it when you know that the future of this priceless little corner of natural Florida is in better shape now than it was when these volunteers unpacked their gear.”

Before anyone knew about the hill that was right there waiting to be rediscovered.

There’s another free, fun environmental gem just waiting for people of all ages in Apollo Beach – that’s right, starting Nov. 1 at 10 a.m., Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center welcomes you to another incredible season at a place like no other!

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