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Thursday, July 07, 2022
<p>From left: Helen Warren, City Commissioner; Brad Purcell, South Florida Water Management District; Ed Braddy, Mayor; David Lewis, Wharton Smith; Chris Wynn, Florida Fish and Wildlife; Chris Keller, Wetland Solutions; and Tom Frick, FDEP, cut the ribbon at Friday's grand opening of Sweetwater Wetlands Park, located at 325 SW Williston Road.</p>

From left: Helen Warren, City Commissioner; Brad Purcell, South Florida Water Management District; Ed Braddy, Mayor; David Lewis, Wharton Smith; Chris Wynn, Florida Fish and Wildlife; Chris Keller, Wetland Solutions; and Tom Frick, FDEP, cut the ribbon at Friday's grand opening of Sweetwater Wetlands Park, located at 325 SW Williston Road.

Gainesville’s newest park is more than just a recreational space. It’s a collaborative project engineered to benefit the environment. 

Sweetwater Wetlands Park, located at 325 SW Williston Road, hosted its grand opening and ribbon-cutting event Friday. The park is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to sunset. Entrance fees are $5 per car or $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists and buses.  

The park is in the shape of the Gator head, which started out as a joke, said Stu Pearson, the City of Gainesville project manager. 

“Engineers can be silly every once in a while,” Pearson said. 

During the ceremony, Mayor Ed Braddy cut the ribbon to officially open the park, which began construction in 2012. 

“We are a community that is not content with being very good. We have to be great,” Braddy said. “We are going to create a wonderful park that people can come and enjoy and see nature at its finest.” 

Walter Nickel, the project manager for the design, said the main benefits of the park are stormwater treatment and water-quality improvement. 

The project engineers rehydrated the prairie by creating 125 acres of wetland cells and restoring 1,300 acres of wetlands, according to a press release. The purpose is to improve the water quality in the Alachua sink by acting as a filter. 

The project cost $26.5 million. The City of Gainesville contributed $22 million to the restoration project while the rest of the money came from organizations that donated.

Nature seekers can expect to encounter wild horses, gators and rare birds roaming the prairie. The design engineers planted tree islands, dead trees created to enhance birding habitat, to act as a magnet for nesting birds. 

“This is going to be a hot spot for people all over the state to come out here bird watching,” said Debbie Segal of Wetland Solutions and Alachua Audubon. “It’s going to generate a lot of money for the economy.” 

The project has received input from 15 agencies, including Gainesville Regional Utilities, the City of Gainesville and Florida Fish and Wildlife. 

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“The genius of the project is bringing all of those minds together and all of those resources together and going into one direction,” said Robert Edmunds, the co-founder of Jones Edmunds, the engineering firm that designed the project.

From left: Helen Warren, City Commissioner; Brad Purcell, South Florida Water Management District; Ed Braddy, Mayor; David Lewis, Wharton Smith; Chris Wynn, Florida Fish and Wildlife; Chris Keller, Wetland Solutions; and Tom Frick, FDEP, cut the ribbon at Friday's grand opening of Sweetwater Wetlands Park, located at 325 SW Williston Road.

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