By BEKAH WITTEN
In Tampa, there’s a stirring that compels you to breathe, to explore, to find yourself sleeping beneath the sun and dancing along with the moon. This sensation, though, the one that lives deep in your gut, is sometimes just as hard to satiate as it is to understand. Tampa days are bright and warm, but the nearest populated beach is forty minutes away in Clearwater, and gas never seems to dip below $2.15 a gallon for longer than a week anymore. When you feel that pull to be somewhere, to do something interesting, you swallow the feeling down, stay home and save money. But your days off don’t always have to suffer, and you don’t always have to spend a lot or sacrifice your safety and sanity to feel sensational.
At the end of Bayshore Boulevard, strikingly parallel to Downtown, you’ll find Ballast Point, a quaint area that USA Today calls “a quiet neighborhood.” You’ll find Ballast Point Park right at the tip of Interbay Boulevard. In the same article raving about the neighborhood’s tranquility, USA Today named the park one of Tampa’s ten best attractions. Even more compelling than raving reviews—there’s no entry fee.
Sometimes during the day the park resembles a Six Flags or Adventure Island with its picnic table birthday parties and pooped children wrapped in beach towels. At night, though, the park is often silent sans for the sound of the Hillsborough slapping against the pier and the hushed laughter of teenagers. Lovers of Ballast Point find this relationship between sunlight and activity one of the park’s most appealing characteristics.
“I love it because it’s family oriented in the day and then a place to go and chill at night,” says Kelly Davies, senior Public Relations and Marketing major. “The buildings look like they should be in a snow globe.”
If you are looking for sunshine and a place to fish, the park holds a 24 hour pier with multiple fishing stations; there’s even a ramp if you’re in need of a weekend boat ride. New England style cuisine is served up at Taste of Boston, the casual restaurant located within the park. And if you’re searching for a place to unleash your inner child, you can indulge in the newly renovated in-house water park.
When I go to Ballast Point, however, I’m not looking for anything but a second away from the noise and chaos of school, of work, of the 4.5 million strangers who share this city with me. Tonight, my three friends and I are exhausted from schoolwork. It’s a weeknight and we should surely be in bed with our homework done, but instead we are in my car, procrastinating and speeding down Bayshore. But we don’t care because we have that pull deep in our gut to be somewhere else, to let the city swallow us whole; the wind is breathing its humidity into our hair like a secret and the minarets of UT fade away with every mile we drive.
The park is quiet while we drive through the open gate—open even though it’s far past the 6 a.m.- 6 p.m. hours the signs advertise. We wince as we squeeze through the brush along the edge of the water and tiptoe out onto the jutting perch where sit with our feet nearly kissing the water. Here we don’t have to worry about word limits, government quizzes, press releases or auditions. Here all we have is the stench of the fishy river at our feet, the embers of our lighters, and the cut of the waves across the rock we sit on. A plane flies above our heads, so close we shut our eyes and sing cries of death, then laugh when we watch it descend toward the airport on Davis Island. Ballast Point makes us feel magical, and we all breathe in one another’s exhales of bliss as our eyes dance across the skyline of Tampa Bay.
Sitting on the lip of the Hillsborough Bay, Ballast Point locks eyes with the condominiums of Bayshore and the “skyscrapers” of Downtown. You will find the image of these buildings strikingly mirrored on the surface of the Bay. That interruption of development amidst the endless span of water and sky feels like an enchantment. Tonight, we are transfixed by the way the moonlight licks the buildings and water, and the way our phones can’t capture the image quite right assures us even more that we’re under a spell.
We aren’t the only ones entranced by the park’s view; all comments on Ballast Point seem to enforce the sense of magic it has. Justin George of the Tampa Bay Times says the park “might offer the city’s best unobstructed views of the water, downtown and the heavens.”
Park developers must have known that the view of Tampa would have this effect, as benches are along the coastline, perfectly parallel with the skyline. Lovers and escapees of everyday chaos sit here and admire the view stretched in front of them, and perhaps when they’re still enough, they become part of that sensational snow globe. Maybe one day, next time you feel yourself being pulled by the city to be somewhere magical, you’ll travel down to the little park at the end of Bayshore and let yourself be part of it too.
Bekah Witten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org