In a city already riddled with wonderfully quaint public parks, Lakeland is ready to introduce one unlike anything its residents have ever seen. A piece of land that has gone undefined for decades will soon be transformed into a property that all of Lakeland’s population can enjoy. Wednesday, at the park’s public announcement, I found myself enthralled by the natural beauty of the landscape, and ground has hardly even been broken. During the rush and immediacy of every day, Bonnet Springs Park will provide an escape to see Lakeland in its purest form.
At nearly 200 acres, Bonnet Springs will be touted as Lakeland’s largest public park. The park will be privately developed by local real estate broker David Bunch, retired Parks and Recreation director Bill Tinsley, and the Barnett family of Publix Super Markets. Though they are also the primary investors of the park, it will require community input to come to fruition at its expected opening date in 2020.
Bonnet Springs Park, located west of downtown in between Lake Bonnet and Lake Wire, has been stuck in an identity crisis longer than I’ve been alive. The property inevitably fell back on an industrial landscape after multiple near-misses from promising investors. The city once tried to turn it into a public park, but was rivaled by developments along Lake Mirror which required detailed attention. A high school athletic stadium was proposed by the Polk County School District, but was scrapped soon after the idea came about. Barnum and Bailey Circus even looked at the property as a potential offseason base just off the train-tracks, but the plan fell by the wayside. After years of “almost,” Bonnet Springs Park will find its home there and bring both fun and practical amenities to the Lakeland community.
The park will bring a needed green space to Lakeland in the middle of bustling commerce, just minutes from downtown and hiding behind the Lakeland Center. Bonnet Springs aims to draw the Lakeland community closer to nature, offering trails, gardens, an aviary, and Swan boat rides to keep park-goers, both young and old, entertained during its daylight hours. All-inclusive playgrounds will ensure that any and every child (or adult if you really want to crush the monkey bars) will have a place to freely play. The innovators behind Bonnet Springs are also adamant to keep the history of the landscape alive by honoring the train system that was once so integral to the Lakeland economy. In addition to a historical center, a miniature train will be available to take you to one of the park’s many activity centers. The artistic culture of Lakeland will be prominently displayed as well, showcased by an amphitheater and an “art garden,” that will promote local artists.
As if this is any news to us Lakelanders, community will be fundamental to the success of Bonnet Springs Park. Because the park will be privately funded, it will also be self-sustaining. Profits from in-park stores and a lakeside restaurant will go straight to the maintenance of Bonnet Springs. Across the street from Bonnet Springs, development on the old Florida Tile property will also take place under the care of both Tinsley and Bunch. With the hope of up to 1000 inhabitants upon its completion, along with multiple storefronts, 100% of the profits made will go to aiding in maintenance as well.
“Great cities have great parks.” A mantra that Tinsley, Bunch, and the Barnett family firmly believe and made clear in their announcement of Bonnet Springs. Everyone behind the project has a deep and evident appreciation for our home, and genuinely want to leave a positive impact on the Lakeland community. The magnitude of the economic footprint left by Bonnet Springs Park will stimulate the surrounding areas and act as a catalyst for change. In a city that is predicted to reach a million residents (yes, a million) in just 50 years, the time to act is now. We already have a great city, Lakeland, get ready for our great park!