January 2019 Newsletter

A Plan for Play at Bonnet Springs Park 

With a goal of becoming a community asset, Bonnet Springs Park (BSP) will welcome visitors of all ages and backgrounds to a wide variety of opportunities to support physical and social equity. The planning and design of the park’s play areas are one of the many elements key in creating an active social hub. 

Over the past several months, the BSP design team has developed a comprehensive approach to creating the park’s play spaces. By utilizing the four types of free play (functional, constructive, dramatic, and games play) the park’s playgrounds will have the ability reinforce shared experiences and forge new connections amongst its visitors. 


Individual play elements, spanning these four free play types, will be selected to challenge and excite visitors through use of fast motion, height, exploration, exposure to natural elements, and use functional tools.

nature play

Although play elements have been scattered throughout BSP, primary playground areas can be found at the Welcome Center, Children’s Museum, and Botanical Garden. One of the park’s largest playgrounds, the Nature Play Area, will feature unstructured elements that promote creativity, build curiosity, and encourage experimentation. Located on the northeastern portion of the park, the Nature Play area will highlight park’s four main landscape types: the flat plateau, the changing topography of the valley slope, the unique features of the sand seep spring, and the broad canopy of the woodland. Individual play elements in each of these zones will invite children to explore site’s natural vegetation and habitat while providing opportunities to balance, swing, climbing, slide, and create. 


Gopher Turtles Found on Site

Administered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the endangered gopher tortoise (Gopherus Polyphemus) was found to be in residence in the future home of Bonnet Springs Park, primarily on the site of the old rail yards. In order to preserve the turtles and protect them from harm during construction, an extensive survey of the park site was executed by our environmental consultants from Dennis & Associates, Inc. (BDA). A total of five Gopher tortoise burrows were flagged and on December 28th the relocation began. A total of two tortoises were captured and relocated to the FWC approved 655.9 acre Adams Ranch long term gopher tortoise recipient site.

Abandoned burrows provide housing for many other species in nature.

Found as deep as 12 feet and as long as 20 feet, the burrows are safe houses for the Gopher Tortoise.

This process requires a state issued permit in advance of any construction activity on site. Prior to release on the recipient, data is collected regarding the length, weight, and sex of each Gopher Tortoise. One male and one female weighing 8.07 lbs. and 6.69 lbs. respectively were released from the Bonnet Springs Park project site. Remaining Gopher Tortoises remain in secluded portions of the 180-acre site and are expected to repopulate following park construction.

Turtles receive permanent markings to allow monitoring as they adapt to their new home.

Kiwanis Club Sponsored Tree House

A popular feature of Bonnet Springs Park will be a large tree house in the canopy of the old oak grove. This rustic, traditional styled get-away will be handicap-accessible from the unique elevated walk 18 feet in the air threading for 1600 feet through the canopy of the oak grove. The Kiwanis Clubs of Lakeland, lead by the Downtown Club, upon learning of the tree house plans, jumped at the opportunity to sponsor the $250,000 estimated cost. Dennis Harrison, long-time member and past president, and tree house chairman, says “This is a perfect opportunity for Kiwanis, whose mission is ‘Young Children—Priority One’, to do something for children in greater Lakeland. We will call it the ‘Kiwanis Cares for Kids Treehouse’ and it will be available for birthday parties, learning experiences and individual visits.” When not reserved for kids’ parties, it will be open to the public. Among other kid-friendly features, it will have telescopes on the large deck for spying wildlife in the trees and on the new lagoon located nearby. 

Conceptual Tree House Picture

Michael Ehlenbeck, President of the Downtown Club agrees “Kiwanis has been in Lakeland for nearly 100 years. To stay relevant, we have to reinvent ourselves periodically, and do things that support and appeal to children, our future members pool. The Kiwanis Treehouse will be a pleasurable experience for generations of children, who will have a positive image of Kiwanis and want to be a part of it someday.”

There are three Kiwanis Clubs in Lakeland, the Downtown Club the oldest and largest, organized in 1922, The Citrus Center Club, and The North Lakeland Club. The clubs’ central focus is projects supporting schools, children’s programs and needs. The clubs are part of Kiwanis International, involved worldwide in programs in support of children. The tree house is being designed by Lunz and Associates, Architects, and will be constructed by Rodda Construction. It is anticipated to open with Bonnet Springs Park in late 2020.

Bonnet Springs Park is grateful to the Kiwanis Clubs for their leadership gift for the Treehouse. We look forward to sponsorships from other clubs and organizations in the creation of this world class park.