Lakeland is putting the final touches on a new nature park it hopes will be another nature lover's paradise in the area.
- Name of park stylized as "Se7en Wetlands Park"
- Park named for seven wetlands the park sits on
- First phase of park includes 8.5 miles of trails
The new park will be called "Se7en Wetlands Park," representing the seven wetlands it sits on. Staffers aim to craft a visiting experience similar to what Circle B Bar Reserve offers.
The park is 1,640 acres in all, sitting next to the Mulberry line in Polk County off of State Road 60. The entrances are located at Loyce Harpe Park and Highlands Scrub Preserve.
The land is old phosphate mining land the City of Lakeland turned into a wastewater wetland treatment facility. That will be its primary function, but the city wanted to convert the maintenance roads into trails so the public could enjoy all of the wildlife living there.
“There’s great wildlife viewing opportunities," said environmental scientist Sarah Malone, who works for the City of Lakeland. "Lots of bird enthusiasts would like to come out here, nature photographers.”
The first phase includes 8.5 miles of trails and two wetlands. Wildlife like alligators, birds, otters, turtles, coyotes all live here.
“Just last week we got an amazing video of bobcats up close. Just didn’t even care that we were there,” Malone recalled.
She said an app is being created to assist hikers and runners with navigation.
“Our GIS department created an app, so people can come out here, download the app and not get lost while they hike the trails,” Malone said.
Lakeland has used the man-made wetlands to treat wastewater since the late eighties. Visitors out here will get to learn about that, too.
“The water gets treated through natural processes, such as settling of solids and filtration," Malone explained. "The plants actually uptake some of the nutrients, and there’s just a natural nutrient cycling that goes on within the wetlands.”
Malone and her staff hope to partner with schools, local colleges and universities to conduct hands-on field trips and projects on site.
To fund the first two phases of the park, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection chipped in a total of $950,000, and Mosaic donated $150,000. Lakeland allocated $125,000, according to Pam Page, Deputy Parks and Recreation Director.
The staff at the new park has big plans looking forward.
“Our real dream is to open an education center here,” Malone said.
However, she and Page said those dreams will only happen if donations keep flowing in. Page said the city hasn’t allocated any more funds toward the park.
To construct the entire 22 miles of trails around the seven wetlands, she estimates it’ll cost between $15 to $17 million.
The grand opening celebration for Phase 1 is set for April 14.