Sweetwater Wetlands Park: Gainesville’s Haven for Birds
Mother’s Day found us wandering on the boardwalks over vegetation filled water at Sweetwater Wetlands Park, a city park in Gainesville, Florida.
It doesn’t look like much from the road- a pull off and a handful of parking spaces with a little pavilion. It could have been a trailhead, but this was the entrance to the little known Sweetwater Wetlands Park, a 125-acre man-made wetland area, with boardwalks, a shady overlook and gravel trails on the embankments around the water.
The wetlands were created to clean and filter the sediments and excess nitrogen from urban runoffs into the creek before the water enters nearby Paynes Prairie and eventually the Florida aquifer.
Like a living Monet masterpiece, the wetlands teem with aquatic vegetation and birds. The air is abuzz with birdsongs. We saw marsh hens chasing each other across the water lilies, their bodies so light they didn’t sink the lily pads! In another area, a heron patiently waited to catch his dinner. In the gaps between the water hyacinths and water lilies, we could see the water was shallow and crystal clear- ready to support the wildlife of the prairie.
Sweetwater Wetlands is adjacent to La Chua on the northern rim of Paynes Prairie State Park. We didn’t see the numerous alligators that have made La Chua Trail famous, but with all of that vegetation and hot sunshine, they were probably just hiding. We did see birds, however- lots of them! Blue Herons, Limpkins, Marsh Hens, Ibis and more- this place is loaded with birds!
Only a few years old, this city park has 3.5 miles of hiking trails, gravel, and boardwalks and makes for a nice afternoon stop. There are benches along the trail to take a rest and watch the birds.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Sweetwater Wetland Park is located at 325 SW Williston Rd, Gainesville, FL 32601
- Hours: 7 am to sunset; 7 days a week; Year round.
- Contact: 352-334-5067 (Gainesville Parks & Recreation)
- Entry fee is by courtesy box- $5 per carload or $2 per person- bring change. You have to leave it in an envelope in the box.
- There are toilets by the parking area.
- Pick up a bird watching checklist (the bulletin board by the toilets) to help you identify the birds.
- Forget the complicated gate instructions. We spent too long puzzling over it. Lift the farthest ring up and push the gate open. Make sure to secure it.
- Aside from the initial wetland overlook, there is NO shade. Bring sunscreen & a hat.
- Stay hydrated! Bring water.
- Biking is prohibited on this trail.
- So are pets.
- Stay on the paths. There are gators. Even if you can’t see them – they can see you! This is Florida. There are always gators.
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