Nudist colonies, horse racing attract visitors
By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
In a year in which Pasco County tentatively approved its biggest ever tourist venture -- a $5.7-million tennis stadium in Wesley Chapel -- other tourism news naturally took a back seat.
But as most people were mesmerized by the fuzzy bouncing tennis ball, Pasco consolidated its status as the nudist capital of the United States.
And some 10,000 horse fans -- including cartloads of dignitaries and millionaires -- came to an annual steeplechase weekend near Dade City.
And it welcomed what will be the county's second business plugging nature tours of swamps and forest aboard safari buggies.
The nudism business took nourishment from the 2002 opening of Caliente, a Spanish-style resort with plans for 350 homes and a 40-room motel east of U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes.
Its nearest competitor in the upscale relax-in-the-buff category, Paradise Lakes southwest of U.S. 41 and State Road 54, completed 71 condominiums.
Paradise also plans to build dozens more apartments south of its gate on Brinson Road and install 72 RV spaces a mile away on Leonard Road, near the entrance to another nudist resort, Lake Como.
Paradise was among the top sponsors for Bob and Sharon Blanchard's Little Everglades Steeplechase, a March event at a rolling ranch northeast of Dade City.
For 2002, Blanchard invested $1-million to spruce up his turf racing course and boosted the purse to $115,000. The investment brought thousands of paying spectators to a corner of the county that has lagged economically behind the rest of Pasco.
One further tourist site came courtesy of Pasco's neighbor to the south, Pinellas County.
Pinellas is building a 6,122-square-foot, Florida Cracker style visitors center on its 12,023-acre Cross Bar and Al Bar well field property in north-central Pasco.
Among the highlights will be eco-tours aboard school buses converted to safari buggies to handle the rough terrain.
Pinellas' model was Pasco's existing nature tour business, Starkey's Flatwoods Adventures, based at an active cattle ranch near Odessa.
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