BY LINDA CHION KENNEY
Among those who attended Riverview’s Pebble Park for his ribbon-cutting tour was Stacy White, who celebrated his last day as Hillsborough County Commissioner on November 21 due to term restrictions.
White, whose District 4 seat includes the greater Riverview parish, retired from public service after four years as a school board member, followed by eight years as district commissioner, but not before his final public affair, cutting the ribbon for Pebble Park project that is very close to his heart.
There, on November 17, he joined representatives from Hillsborough County and also those from The Mosaic Co., who previously owned the land. County officials bought the $2.8 million land for about $2.1 million, according to Forest Turbiville, the director of the Hillsborough Department of Conservation and Land Management.
“This is a long-standing project that we have been working on [for] nearly eight years,” said Greg Horwedel, deputy county commissioner. “It’s a partnership between the county, Mosaic and the community. We are very pleased that all of this could come to fruition.”
The 27-acre property at 9955 Riverview Drive features a 400-meter paved walking path, a 800-meter nature trail, three pavilions with picnic tables and two native planted areas and a pollinator garden. Future plans for the pet-friendly park include a lookout on the Alafia River.
“I was the commissioner who advocated funding for this park and worked closely with the staff on the design,” White said. “I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Mosaic team who contributed to this park by selling this land to the county for well below market value. This is very much an investment in this community.”
White also noted his interest in recent years in using public art in roundabouts and elsewhere, as is the case with the 6-foot sculpture by Benjamin Moody that stands in the roundabout entrance to Pebble Park. Moody is credited with founding Riverview, being instrumental in establishing the Riverview United Methodist Church on Riverview Drive and US Highway 301, and serving as a three-year county commissioner.
“My point is that I want to use these artworks to tell a little bit of the history of our communities,” White said, not far from a small depiction of a second sculpture being developed for Pebble Park’s interior, in which Near the picnic pavilions. The “sovereign” statute, created in collaboration with Seminole tribe artists and craftsmen, is meant to honor the spirit of the historic Council Oak and includes a series of reimagined patchwork story plaques designed by Seminole craftsmen.
“We worked closely with the Tampa Bay History Center and with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to commission this statute,” White said. “The story we want to tell there is that when they see the Alafia River, people wonder where the name came from. The term is of Indian origin and means “river of fire”. ”
White said the name comes from the river’s bioluminescence, which refers to the production and emission of light by living organisms.
After prepared remarks, participants walked the cobbled trail to a large oak tree where the ribbon-cutting ceremony took place. Further down the trail, the guides discussed the stakes in the ground that indicate where gophers have their burrows, which in turn can serve as habitat for more than 300 organisms. Indeed, the weave of the paved path reflects the intent to protect the gopher tortoise den’s ecosystem.
Other highlights included a section where the trail will be extended in the future to allow park visitors access to a boardwalk and a yet-to-be-constructed Alafia lookout. It should be finished by the end of next year. Also of note is the vast and diverse sandhill ecosystem that surrounds the paved trail, which will see a refreshment over the years.
“We’ll be adding wiregrass, elephant’s feet, palmettos, longleaf pines and more, but still trying to keep it open,” said Ross Dickerson, department head of the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP). “And that’s the beauty of a Sandhill community. It doesn’t grow [tight] like a hardwood [tree] community. It’s wide open and scattered.”
Meanwhile, off the dirt trail, visitors got their first glimpse of the butterfly garden being created by Brownie Scouts in collaboration with county officials. Bricks uncovered during the construction of the park were used to outline the butterfly shape of the garden. The bricks are from the original Riverview Drive, which adds another historic dimension to Pebble Park.
The park’s day-to-day operations are overseen by park manager Travis Parker, who said that a protected nature park “brings the community together,” especially given the growing network of neighborhoods and high-density streets that define the Riverview landscape and beyond .
During construction, Pebble Park was a “hidden gem, and now it’s been discovered,” Parker said. “Come out and enjoy it. Anything I can do to improve your visit I will do. I love building relationships with the people that come here and being part of something bigger than myself.”
Park hours are Sunday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. during the fall and winter months and until 7:00 p.m. during the spring and summer months.