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!
It's been over two weeks since our last post, but I feel like it has been for good reason. Family to enjoy, a house to fix up, school projects to complete - you know, busy living life without much time to document it. But we're back with some Mother's Day love to share. Last weekend Ellison and I were so excited to get to spend time with all parts of our family over the weekend, but particularly with my mom, brother and nephews. We decided to meet up on Saturday at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens near Sanford.
While the zoo is pretty small, it is so nicely maintained with boardwalks leading to each enclosure and beautiful landscaping throughout the park. You can see it easily in a morning, but there are numerous picnic tables and a splash park if you want to make more of a day of it. Ellison couldn't decide whether her favorite part was playing on the playground (because you can't do that at any park?) or feeding the giraffe, but in the end decided she didn't care because she was just happy to see her cousins.
Zach posing with what has to be the world's most unattractive llama. I really wish I had gotten a shot of his face head-on. He was truly so ugly he was cute and everyone wanted a picture. There was a line and the llama was surprisingly agreeable to being photographed.
The weather was perfect for spending the day outside, so when we finished with the zoo, Ellison and I went to lunch with my mom in Sanford. It has been rejuvinated since I had last seen it decades ago, with numerous restaurants, shops and art galleries downtown and a broad sidewalk along the waterfront that offers expansive views of Lake Monroe.
Below are some pictures of my two favorite women in the world just hanging out together unaware of the itchy grass rash that will plague them the rest of the night. They're pretty cute. And smart. And kind. You know, the usual best qualities. I love them both more than words can begin to say!
As Ellison and I drove back to Gainesville we passed numerous natural areas that we wanted to check out this summer. We've included a few below in case you find yourself in the neighborhood and want to take to the trails.
Some of the best places to hike in Seminole County include:
Growing up in this area, Trevor and I both spent our childhoods out in these woods. These trails are the sites of some of our first hikes and our first dates (Wekiva Springs and Rock Springs Run) and we are both really looking forward to sharing more of them with Ellison.
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!