Designing Innovative Wetlands that are Becoming Hotspots for Birds

Least Bittern – Photo Ron Franklin

Sweetwater Wetlands Park opened to the public in 2015. The 125-acre innovative wetland improves water quality and restores water sheetflow to Paynes Prairie but has also become a hotspot for bird watchers.

The wetland was designed to protect the ecosystem by being a natural sustainable filtration system for nutrients and pollutants from Gainesville Regional Utilities’ Main Street Water Reclamation Facility and stormwater from downtown Gainesville. Over 125,000 pounds of nitrogen are removed annually.

Little Blue Heron – Photo Ron Franklin

The park has become an ecotourism destination for outdoor enthusiasts and bird watchers. It is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and one of the two best-known birding spots in North Florida. As of October 25, visitors had recorded 248 species of birds on ebird with the last sighting a black-throated green warbler. Bald eagles are seen along with great blue heron, great egret, white ibis, black-bellied whistling ducks, anhinga, snowy egret, double-crested cormorant, and ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Limpkin – Photo Ron Franklin

There is no shortage of gators (reptiles) as well as butterflies and Florida cracker horses that can be seen galloping free. With the wetland near the University of Florida in Gainesville, Jones Edmunds intentionally designed the park to be in the shape of an alligator head.

Aerial view of Sweetwater Wetlands Park in shape of alligator head

Visitors can walk along 3.5 miles of trails made up of boardwalks and crushed gravel. Sweetwater Wetlands Park was awarded the David W. York Reuse Project of the Year Award in 2018 by the Florida Water Environment Association. It is an innovative water reuse and environmental restoration project that is helping prevent algal blooms and bringing a thriving habitat back to the community.

Male Northern Shoveler

Geoffrey Parks with the City of Gainesville said that the park had 70 thousand visitors in 2018. Slow months see 3-5K people per month with 7-10K during the cooler months. Every Wednesday from September to May the Wetlands holds a Wednesday Bird Walk at the Wetlands. Admission is $5 per car entrance fee.

Sora Rail – Photo Ron Franklin

During the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in 2018, the with 175 species recorded on December 16. The count is the largest total ever in the 119 years of the inland North American CBC.