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