In the wake of a five-fold population explosion during the first decade of the millennium, Riverview, Florida, still holds tightly to its small-town charm. Less than 30 minutes’ drive from Tampa, this unincorporated community of 73,500 residents straddles both banks of the Alafia River, which once separated the 1880s town of Riverview from the longer-established 1830s village of Peru. Sitting on the cusp of wilderness areas—yet close to golf courses and other perks of the Florida good life—Riverview earned a spot on the 2012 CNN-Money list of the 100 best places to live.
The lifeblood of Riverview seems to flow through the Alafia River. Alafia means “river of fire,” which refers to the luminescence of the riverbed that results from its high concentration of phosphates. Early settlers mined the phosphates, which bolstered the area’s economy until the 1920s. Today the river’s primary contribution is linked to recreation. Anglers can fish for redfish and trout from the wooden fishing dock at the Riverview Civic Center or launch a skiff from the center’s boat ramp. The city hosts the Alafia River Challenge, a November race for kayak and canoe enthusiasts.
One of the top attractions for kids in Riverview is the 65-acre Camp Cristina, a day camp run by the local YMCA branch. Open to schoolchildren grades one through 10, the camp’s programs range from archery to horseback riding, and from kayaking to arts and crafts. Fun is important, but promoting friendships and instilling confidence are the top goals. That’s why activities include a rock wall climb and 35-foot-high ropes course. The reward for individuals who conquer their fears is an exhilarating zip-line descent.
Another of the attractions for kids near Riverview is the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, about 11 miles to the southeast. These gentle “sea cows,” as they are often called, are mammals. As such, they need to breathe air from above the water’s surface, just as whales and porpoises do. It is no accident that the viewing center is next to Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station. The station’s discharge canal provides a warm-water refuge for these docile creatures when the bay and the gulf drop below 68 degrees. Federal and state authorities have designated the canal an official manatee sanctuary.
Visitors to Riverview who want to explore the wilderness areas of southwestern Florida can choose from a number of nearby parks. The 6,260-acre Alafia River State Park, 17 miles inland, makes for a great day trip from Riverview. The state keeps up 20 miles of trails for horseback riding and hiking and 17 miles of trails for cyclists. Camping facilities include 30 family sites with water and electric hookups, and a 12-stall horse barn is available to equestrians. The Southwest Florida Water Management District maintains six preserves nearby. Two great options for a day trip from Riverview are the 5,500-acre Chito Branch Reserve, just south of Lithia, and the 1,281-acre Edward Medard Park, which boasts a fishing pier and an observation tower.