I visited Sweetwater Wetlands Park (Gainesville, Florida) early in the morning, and the experience was magical. The sun was rising over colorful marshland, and there were birds everywhere. There were only a few birders at the location and a single jogger. The two slide-shows below are from this particular outing.
Two weeks later, however, the park was much more crowded. Although I was the first to arrive, the parking lot filled quickly and the atmosphere was much less relaxed. On this day, I walked only one of the two loops, and was eager to leave. So one’s experience may vary from one day to the next.
There was a clean restroom at the park entrance and, as I approached the trails, a gate with an odd latch. The gate may prevent the wild horses from escaping. However, I saw no horses at either visit, and am wondering if they have been removed. To release the latch, one simply presses down on the curved base and then pushes.
A short boardwalk led to the trails. All of the trails were hard-packed dirt. A paved trail proved to be a service road, which led to a fenced drainage area. Here I saw several medium-sized alligators basking in the sun. I also saw trash deposited by visitors, as well as a man throwing stones at the animals. It left me feeling disappointed in my fellow human beings.
A road continued beyond the drainage area, but came to a dead-end.
I’ve marked up a Google map to help those who are new to the park. I was unable to find a clearly marked, high-resolution trail map.
Some may find it tempting to go off the trails. However, even large alligators can hide themselves in the shallowest of water, and they hunt by ambushing animals that come too close to the water’s edge. I saw large alligators during both visits.
Immediately off the trail, there were also innumerable red-ant mounds. For those new to the area, red-ants leave painful welts that may last weeks.
Parking at Sweetwater Wetlands is $5.00. There is also a $0.35 convenience fee if you use the Passport Parking app, which allows you to enter the park’s site number (32601) into the app and pay with a credit card.
Images © Carol Fullerton Samsel 2020