Sandy white beaches and crystal clear water may not be what comes to mind when thinking of Pasco County.
But, SunWest Park is all about changing minds with a little fun in the sun.
“I think it’s a phenomenal addition to the county’s tourism,” said Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano. “I think it could be considered the focal point. I see a lot of people come here, because everyone loves the white sand we have here.”
They might also love beach volleyball, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, sand soccer, kayaking or tumbling through floating inflatables in the aqua park.
SunWest opened on the Fourth of July weekend off U.S. 19, at 17362 Old Dixie Highway in Hudson.
Portions of the park remain under construction, and an official grand opening is anticipated in spring.
The county acquired the property in the mid-1980s when it was the site of a former limestone mine with a spring-fed lake. More than a decade of discussions and planning preceded the construction of SunWest.
The park provides a beach experience without traveling a great distance, said Mariano, adding that it can be a “staycation” for local residents and a tourist destination for others.
“It’s a lot easier to get here from anywhere in the county, than going to Clearwater,” he said.
On a recent weekend the Ballard family, from Reston, Virginia, took a detour from Weeki Wachee to check out SunWest. Trent Ballard, 16, adapted his snowboarding skills for acrobatics on SunWest’s wakeboarding course.
Closer to home, the Bartosch clan, from Port Richey, took turns snapping family photos in a gigantic rainbow-colored beach chair.
In November, the park hosted the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament with teams from the Florida State University, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University.
More tournaments are in the works.
About 20 volleyball courts are open, but Mariano said park operator Patrick Pakanos is adding more courts, as well as upgrading an aerial cable system for wakeboarding enthusiasts.
Pasco County broke records for tourism in 2015, and, as SunWest grows, the hope is that the park will be a major attraction.
“His (Pakanos) goal is to turn it into a destination with tournaments for wakeboarding, volleyball and soccer,” said Ed Caum, Pasco County’s tourism director. “The county supports that all the way.”
Published January 27, 2016