Ellison and I are still slowly plodding along on the 52 Hike Challenge and this week we completed Hike #7. Let me just start by saying that Sweetwater Wetlands Park is one of the most pleasantly surprising places that I have been in a long time. We have been meaning to check it out since the park first opened last May and it took a year, but we finally made it. Honestly, my expecations were pretty low (I'm not sure why) and I suspected it would just be just like any other local trail, but figured it was still worth a visit. Well, Sweetwater Wetlands far exceeded our expecatations and Ellison and I quickly decided that this is our new favorite park in Gainesville - for many reasons. The boardwalks, the well designed trails and lookouts, the beautiful vegetation and abundant wildlife, the purposeful habitat and water flow restoration. All of this attention to detail makes Sweetwater Wetlands exemplary in terms of city environmental efforts. Oh, and it's designed in the shape of an alligator head. Of course.
There are almost 4 miles of walking trails, laid out in multiple loops winding throughout the wetlands, partially on boardwalks and partially rock and gravel. We went in the early afternoon when the sun was almost directly overhead so we weren't expecting much in terms of animal activity, but again Sweetwater Wetlands delivered with dozens of bird species, eight alligators and a very curious cotton rat. Ellison was most excited about seeing a huge alligator up close as it swam right up to the boardwalk. It beat out the rare sight of alligators mating that we witnessed later in the hike, primarily due to her concern over the fate of the female. It wasn't pretty. We were all a little worried.
Below is a baby limpkin coming out of its nest. There were numerous mother bird species with their babies, but this is the only one of which I could get a decent shot. Limpkins only eat apple snails and Ellison made a game out of collecting as many empty snail shells as she could find.
The boardwalks overlook the manmade wetlands that restore the water flow to nearby Payne's Prairie. Ellison counted 5 alligators and ten different types of birds from this spot. Her favorites were the Great Blue herons because she appreciates the way in which they strut regally through the water. Mine were the Red-winged blackbirds because of the bright red wing feathers that make it look like they're wearing military epaulettes.
And now for the much anticipated cotton rat...
Sweetwater Wetlands is such a fantastic little park and Ellison and I are looking forward to a return visit. We walked almost all of the trails, but did realize as we were headed back that there was one loop we missed. Even more reason to come back. We're thinking a dawn outing with our birding checklists to see how many species we can identify in one morning. There were numerous covered benches and seating areas seemingly designed for just this purpose. I think we could probably check off at least 20, maybe more.
This is Ellison's favorite shirt and she absolutely wanted me to include a close-up because she says she truly is happy every day. And I can attest to the fact that this is indeed the truth. I don't know how I ended up so lucky as to get his amazing girl in my life, but I need to find a shirt that says 'grateful everyday' because that would pretty much sum it up for me.
See you back here soon!
My family and I love to get outside and explore every chance we get. My daughter and I started this blog as a way to chronicle not only the places we have visited, but also as a way to preserve our time together. We hope you enjoy it and will make a little time for a hike with friends!