This Sandhill Crane pair is raising their family in Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville, Florida.

When Ann and I lived in Gainesville in 1977-78, the 125 acres that now comprise the park had been ‘murdered’. Sweetwater Branch was the recipient of treated and untreated wastewater from Gainesville’s sewage plant. It caught trash from overflows of stormwater drains.

This pollution was a major contributor to the demise of Payne’s Prairie. All the sewage pollutants, including high loads of nitrogen and phosphorus, and the floating garbage went straight down a manmade canal, dug to drain the prairie for 1,300+ acres of cattle pasture, to the prairie’s Alachua Sink, a natural sinkhole opening of the Floridian aquifer. The result? Pollutants leaving fast growing Gainesville went directly into a major central Florida drinking water source.

Worse for native plants and animals, the canal cutoff all of the natural seasonal sheetflow – the wide, slow dispersal of the rainfall that gives wetland habitat time to filter & clean the water and turn the normal chemical loads into nutrients.

In 2009, multiple City, County, & State agencies came together to start Payne’s Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project. This project has two major parts. Correct all water quality problems at their point sources. Engineer a constructed wetland to return the sheetflow, with its now clean water, across Payne’s Prairie.

In 2013 the constructed wetlands were opened as Sweetwater Wetlands Park. From the trails & boardwalks designed to connect people & nature, you cannot tell it is ‘constructed’. It is what it appears to be, a reborn wetland. Native plants & wildlife, including a reported 255 bird species, are returning and flourishing.

It is a living example that we can undo the harm we inflict on our Earth if we set our minds to it.

Strong backing for this statement is the rebound of the endangered Snail Kite and once abundant now uncommon Limpkin populations in Payne’s Prairie, especially in the La Chua section adjacent just down sheetwater flow from Sweetwater Wetlands. The water quality has improved markedly and this in turn is improving the habitat for snails and this in turn is improving the quality and quantity of food available for the specialized Snail Kites and Limpkins. And improving visitors’ quality of the experience and connection to Florida’s legacy nature.

Much better than a visit to an artificial lagoon in a theme park. In my opinion.

Limpkin Hunting Snails

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