Great cities are characterized by their parks and green spaces. Lakeland, Florida is a rapidly growing city now distinguished by the new, 168-acre Bonnet Springs Park. At a time when more people are rediscovering the importance of parks in the city, Bonnet Springs Park is a green oasis just blocks from downtown.
The park site was once important to the railroad industry but became obsolete, abandoned, cut off from the city, and abused. Building the park involved removing 36 tons of garbage, remediating 300,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, replanting nearly 3,000 trees, protecting 30 acres of wetlands, and building green infrastructure to treat over 300 acres of urban runoff.
Instead of warehouses or a distribution center, which is what the site was zoned for, now there are playgrounds, gardens, a canopy walk, boardwalks, bike paths, pavilions, a tree house, and 85,000 square feet of community, cultural and educational buildings. Bonnet Springs Park was entirely funded through private philanthropy and brownfield redevelopment credits. No other taxpayer funding was used to build this incredible public asset. It is truly a gift to the city of Lakeland and surrounding communities.
The site’s status as a brownfield was a primary factor that influenced the design process. Rather than exporting the contaminated soil or capping the entire site–two options that would have been costly and with negative off-site impacts–the team decided to incorporate a remediation strategy as an integral component of the design. This decision would go on to inform nearly every aspect of the project, including mobility, microclimate, noise mitigation, and architecture. Perhaps most noticeably, the remediation strategy drove the creation of a hilly topography rarely found in Florida, which is now one of the defining features of the park.
In collaboration with environmental engineers, the design team assessed which areas of the site required excavation and developed the grading plan. Intricate modeling and an adaptive design approach created a process that optimized the existing site materials. As excavation began, on-site soil testing continued in order to validate the approach, fine-tune the limits of excavation, and revise the grading plan accordingly.
Contaminated soil was used to create two large hills that span approximately 10 of the site’s 168 acres. The final height of the hills, which reach up to 40 feet, could only be determined once all contaminated areas were fully delineated during construction. To make the area safe for park visitors, the hills were capped by 2 feet of clean soil that had been excavated to create stormwater ponds in other parts of the site. Lighting, accessible walkways, benches, open lawns, and native meadows activate the hills to create exciting new experiences and vistas.
The two major water systems within the Bonnet Springs Park site faced environmental challenges. Lake Bonnet is the most polluted lake in Lakeland, and Bonnet Springs Valley, which drains into Lake Bonnet, was experiencing an accelerated rate of erosion along its banks.
In response to these challenges, a diverse set of green infrastructure strategies were employed to capture, redirect, and mitigate the on- and off-site watersheds. The new hydrological regime diverts drained water into a new pipe and brings it to a lagoon, preventing erosion of the spring corridor. The first flush of contaminated stormwater is diverted from this pipe to provide stormwater treatment on its way to Lake Bonnet. This runoff is routed through a structural treatment device for debris removal and primary treatment before being released within the Park’s Botanical Garden, first into an armored forebay, then through a winding wet meadow composed of a mix of native and adapted species designed to slow the water, absorb nutrients, and facilitate hydrocarbon biodegradation. This water passes through a swale and into a primary settlement pond, which serves as an accent within the gardens. The water is then conveyed to a new, nearly 7-acre retention lagoon at the foot of the sloping woodland where it can decelerate, settle, and percolate through a 1,300-linear-foot edge of forested wetlands before being released into Lake Bonnet.
This design approach improves water quality and helps restore a sensitive ecosystem. It also provides opportunities for park visitors to experience these new landscapes and be inspired to act in ways that promote clean water in our environment. Inspired by the success of this project, the City of Lakeland, in partnership with Bonnet Springs Park, was awarded a Florida General Infrastructure Program Mitigation Grant (CDBG-MIT) from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to add flood storage capacity to the Lake’s drainage basin through additional improvements to stormwater infrastructure and the natural environment.
Architecture offices involved in the design: Local LA – Urban Jungle, LLC
Location: 400 Bonnet Springs Boulevard, Lakeland, Florida 33815, USA
Design year: 2017
Year Completed: 2022