Sweetwater Wetlands Park

The City of Gainesville recently opened an amazing new nature park, Sweetwater Wetlands Park.  While the park itself is amazing, the partnership behind it is even more interesting.

IMG_2775Several years ago, the City’s utility was informed that it needed to reduce the nutrients in the treated water from the wastewater treatment plant.  The treated water is pumped into the Sweetwater Creek which flows through to the aquifer.  The excess nutrients are not healthy for the aquifer and unfortunately, decades ago, local cattle farmers redirected the creek so that it skipped most of the prairie where the plants would have helped to process the extra nutrients (they wanted to let the prairie dry out to provide extra grazing land).

IMG_2796The utility did some research on the options to purify the treated water and discovered that the most cost-effective way would actually be to redirect the creek back to its original path and to reestablish a variety of plants which would naturally process the nutrients out of the water.  That’s cool part #1.  Cool part #2 is that instead of just putting in the plants and moving on, they partnered with the City’s Public Works and Parks departments to create a unique nature park with boardwalks and trails so that the public can enjoy the flora and fauna of the wetlands.

IMG_2789The first part of the process is the sediment removal and then the trash trap.  While the water coming from the treatment plant has already had the garbage removed, stormwater also flows into the creek.  Sadly, that stormwater includes litter from the street.  This set of trash traps collects that garbage and keeps it from going further into the prairie.

IMG_2926This is Eli’s favorite part of the park.  Even though it can be a little stinky.

IMG_2930After the trash trap, the water flows into one of three different bays which have been planted with an amazing variety of different plants.  Each bay is surrounded by an elevated walking trail and/or boardwalk.

IMG_2778The trails are just gorgeous.  I’ve lived in this area for over twenty years and I saw a bunch of bird species that I’ve never seen before.

IMG_2791 The park designers left some dead trees standing to serve as bird perches and set up this pole to allow ospreys to nest.  IMG_2831I’m not sure how I managed this one, but I lucked into capturing a photo of a monarch butterfly fluttering through this gorgeous scenery!IMG_2899We also saw quite a few alligators (including some babies) but none came near the paths.

IMG_2885This big guy was hanging out in the sediment trap! The park is just gorgeous and my whole family loved it!  We will definitely be back regularly!

IMG_2940IMG_2925The final “cool thing” about this park is that it was designed to look like a gator head from the sky.  Which, as a Florida Gator alumni, I think is just extra awesome. IMG_2893



Sweetwater Wetlands Park — 8 Comments

    • It really is gorgeous. I’m hoping to run there, but I’m not sure about the footing on the paths.

    • It’s a great combination of function, education and beautiful nature!

  1. Pretty neat! There is a nature preserve that I run in just down the street from my home. They spent a couple of years repopulating it with native species and building paths and bridges through it. Now people are saying it should be a full-on park with baseball diamonds and picnic areas. I think that kind of defeats the purpose of a nature preserve. Your photos are beautiful!
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    • I agree, some parks should be active recreation parks but some need to be left as passive nature parks!

    • It really blew me away! I can’t wait to see how it looks as the seasons change.