Our History

About The Park

Our History

Repurposing the 180 acres near downtown that once helped Lakeland begin to thrive, Bonnet Springs Park will provide connections that spark an ecological renaissance in our community.

Perhaps nothing in Lakeland’s history had a greater impact upon the city than its railyards. Lakeland literally grew around them. Providing direct routes for the state of Florida’s phosphate and agricultural industries, the rails running to and from Lakeland put the city on the map. Yet, Lakeland’s railyards have disappeared. Yesterday’s lines of transportation have fallen out of frequent use, having served their purpose of providing connective lines between communities, cities, and states. Repurposing the 180 acres near downtown that once helped Lakeland begin to thrive, Bonnet Springs Park will provide connections that spark an ecological renaissance in our community.

Old Aerial Photo of Lakeland
Historical Railway

Following its closure in the early 1980s, Lakeland’s nearly century-old railyard operation, once the largest in Florida, left a deep environmental footprint. The property, located between West Memorial Boulevard and George Jenkins Boulevard on the east side of Lake Bonnet, languished for nearly forty years, forgotten by most Lakelanders, until a group of community investors and developers united to repurpose the historic site. Through the collaboration of local developer David Bunch, retired Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bill Tinsley, and Carol and Barney Barnett, the purchase of the railyard and more than a dozen adjoining properties were acquired, and master planning and design began in 2016.

Recovering these important lands with skill and purpose, and preparing to develop them required all of the competence that could be marshalled. To meet these challenges, the team partnered with world-renowned architectural and park planning group Sasaki. The Boston-based firm put our vision into reality, designing a unique space that will provide opportunities for all Lakelanders.

Contamination remediation site work began in April 2019, unearthing the ecological impacts of the railroad’s steam and coal era’s transition to diesel locomotives. Each era from railroad’s history had contributed a unique footprint. In early 2021, Bonnet Springs Park will open its doors for the community to experience a world-class park on a beautiful, flourishing property within walking distance of Downtown Lakeland. Ambitious in scale, Bonnet Springs Park will present natural beauty and a wide array of activities that invite visitors to “Escape. Engage. Explore.”