Bonnet Springs Park


Bonnet Springs Park rendering by Sasaki Design

Table of Contents

What Bonnet Springs will look like

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The fast facts

Welcome Center

Welcome Center rendering by Sasaki Design

Picture this: It’s a Saturday morning. You’re kayaking in Lakeland with your friends on the glistening waters of Lake Bonnet, snapping photos of wildlife in a vibrant botanical garden, and thinking of the live oak exploration + orange grove walk you’re planning to take later. Can you envision it? We can.

Enter: Bonnet Springs Park – a new public park coming in 2020 that’s being developed on 180 acres of land.

We’re kicking off a four-week series that dives into all the juicy details on Bonnet Springs Parkfrom 1.75+ miles of boardwalks and 30+ acres of wetlands to a featured exhibition gallery and roof garden terrace.

Today, we’re giving an overview of the main facts and how this brilliant master plan came into existence.

📍 Location: Bonnet Springs Park will be located just outside of downtown Lakeland (a 10-minute walk, to be exact) between W. Memorial Blvd. and George Jenkins Blvd. on the east side of Lake Bonnet.

🅿️ Parking: 600+ public parking spaces. (Yeah, we’re excited too.)

💭 Vision: A few Lakeland locals (David + Jean Bunch) came together in 2015 with a desire to make a great public park. The collective created Windsong Park Inc. and presented the concept (to Barney + Carol Barnett) for complementing Lakeland’s future growth in economic, social, recreational, and environmental benefits, as it’s conveniently located between Orlando and Tampa along the I-4 corridor. Bill Tinsley (former Parks and Recreation Director), Martha Tinsley, and Barnett’s sons added to the team and spent the next two years turning the former CSX rail yards property + adjoining lands into Lakeland’s future park.

Timeline: In 2018, the park’s design, agency meetings, and early permitting packages were in the works. In 2019, early bid packages and construction began. The initial opening and grand opening are planned for 2020.

👍 Benefits: There are many benefits, but here are three of our fav. Conservation will help preserve natural resources that have economic benefits for the Lakeland community. A focus on health + wellness will help combat challenges in our country. Social equality will create healthy + vibrant communities as all have a right to access to public parks.

💰Funding: Private donations, grants, sponsorships, and revenue from park amenities.

Want to get involved? Sign up to help in the design and implementation process of Lakeland’s next great park.

The history of Lake Bonnet + the updated design


Bonnet Springs Park rendering by Sasaki Design

When you hear the word “revitalization,” what comes to mind? In Lakeland, a 134-year old city experiencing explosive growth, you may hear this word often – many times surrounding efforts to expand our city, embrace development, empower new entrepreneurs, and become more inclusive.

But the conversation surrounding revitalization is also applicable to our biodiverse landscape. In fact, without decades of revitalization + preservation efforts, some of Lakeland’s most precious natural gems wouldn’t have existed in the first place.

An example of that: Bonnet Springs – the new 180-acre adventure park coming in 2020, just outside of downtown Lakeland, between W. Memorial Blvd. and George Jenkins Blvd.

Throwing it back about 100 years ago, this site used to serve as a rail yard from the late 1800s to the early 1950s. Before the Great Depression, the Lakeland rail yard (which used to be Lakeland’s largest employer) is credited to once being a major driving force in the city’s economy.

Fast forward to today and 80+ acres of the property contain traces of arsenic and petroleum near the spring’s headquarters, an outlet that pours stormwater from a 300-acre offsite watershed into the springs clear waters.

And yet, it’s these exact remnants of the past, that are helping design the Bonnet Springs of the future.

The spring exists due to the outfall discharge from heavy FL rains, and since the site hasn’t been developed since 1952, plants + trees have had ample opportunity to bloom and grow.

While the site is currently vacant, it soon will be an important part of Lakeland’s ecological + recreational footprint due to the efforts of prominent local residents, businesses, and the international design firm, Sasaki.

The designers are using the resources already at bay to take land from the most contaminated sections and create two 40-ft. “mountains” on the property, which will provide seating, block noise + views of the highway, and exaggerate the topographical grade, giving a dramatic elevation.

Stormwater will also be moved into a number of wetland ponds, waste management systems to decontaminate the water will be installed, and an anticipated dredging will help one of the city’s most nutrient-impaired lakes become healthy once again, and create a sustainable (and beautiful) environment for years to come.

When landscape meets architecture

Event Pavilion

Event Pavilion rendering by Sasaki Design

When it comes to the cultural design of Bonnet Springs Park, a series of buildings will be built in harmony with the surrounding environment – some even partially buried into the landscape’s hills. The buildings will create seamless exterior + interior experiences, such as the Bridge Building, future home to the new location of Explorations V Children’s Museum, bridged between two constructed hills to offer rooftop views of the park.

Here’s what else the overall plan includes:

    • A Welcome Center featuring a visitor lobby, exhibition gallery, lecture space, cafe, gift shop, and covered patio area
    • A 300-seat banquet hall
    • A front porch with a roof garden terrace, museum space, a theater, admin offices, outdoor play space, a 150-seat restaurant and cafe, and an 80-seat outside patio
    • A sculpture and botanical garden
    • A Nature Center with a cafe + snack bar, covered patio, and gallery gift shop
    • An amphitheater

One of the guiding design principles to the park’s numerous amenities is to provide visitors with an educational experience that brings out ecology and natural systems. The idea is that every building will connect the indoors and outdoors with lots of doorways and transparent glass.

Climate control, access to daylight, and views to nature are human comfort strategies that are valued in any sustainable design solution. However, these features can also greatly impact the mechanical systems needed to keep spaces cool and dry, especially with Florida’s hot + humid weather.

To combat these challenges, the buildings will include deep roof overhangs, adjustable shutters, and tall ventilated spaces that help induce the convection of hot air up and out of the cooled spaces.

Here are a few companies behind the great urban landscape that deserve a shoutout:

An ecological jewel with forest views

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk rendering by Sasaki Design

What would you say if we told you that you could kayak, bike, fish, hike through a live oak grove, scour the trees in a canopy walk, and view native animals all within a ~10 min. walk from downtown Lakeland?

Over the past several weeks we’ve given you the fast facts, history + revitalization efforts, and the cultural design on Bonnet Springs Park, the 180-acre adventure park coming to the Lake Bonnet area by 2020.

Which begs the question: What recreational activities will the park offer? The answer: A little something for everyone. Here’s a few to get you started.

👪 For the kids

  • A 100-ft long jungle gym tribute to Lakeland’s beloved unofficial mascot, Blinky the alligator.
  • The Explorations V Children’s Museum with 40,000 sq. ft. of space for children to learn through their five senses.
  • A Nature Play Area that will invite children to explore the site’s natural vegetation + habitat while providing opportunities to balance, swing, climb, slide, and create.

🎒 For the avid hiker

  • Over 1.75 miles of boardwalks.
  • An iconic oak grove with views of a 200+ year old Grandfather Oak.
  • A canopy walk through the trees with clear forest views.
  • Additional walking paths + biking on nature trails.
  • A walk up Bonnet Springs Hills with views to downtown and the Lake.

🚣 For those fully wanting to embrace the lake-front life

  • A wetlands walk right next to the lake.
  • Nature Center Pirogue Boat Rental.
  • Kayaking and other water recreation on Lake Bonnet.

🌼 For the one with a green thumb

  • A Kitchen Garden that contains raised planter beds with vegetables, herbs, small fruit trees, and a large farm table to suit a variety of gatherings.
  • The Blue Garden which features a blue art installation like tinted mirror panels that fade into nearby vegetation and blue bottle trees.

Though our team is excited for every aspect of this park, you can probably find us in the hammock grove, catching on some much needed R + R after a fun-filled eco-adventure.

Which activity are you most excited about? Send us an email to let us know.

Explorations V Children’s Museum

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Explorations V Children’s Museum at Bonnet Springs Park | Rendering provided by Explorations V Children’s Museum

The world looks a lot different than it did when Explorations V Children’s Museum opened its doors 28 years ago in downtown Lakeland.

Since its inception, the museum has served countless numbers of children, with a mission to provide a hands-on, fun-filled adventure in learning through cultural exhibits, educational programs, and events in the arts + sciences.

As the only children’s museum in Central Florida prepares for its move to Bonnet Springs Park, their team is redefining the vision and creating new exhibits – including a 7,000 sq. ft. gallery for fossil digging + a Publix shopping trip.

Here are the six new galleries expected to come to the museum’s Bonnet Springs park location:

Watermelon Seeds
• A gallery for the youngest visitors, children + their families to understand the importance of farming to our area and learn where food comes from.

Design Park
• From cardboard to kinnex, kids can tinker, fail, and redesign their dream building. Perfect for the ‘Master Builder’ in your life.

The Front Yard
• A 7,000 sq. ft. enclosed gallery that celebrates the ground beneath Florida. Kids can take a blast to the far distant past by digging up marine fossils + hanging out with a larger-than-life 100 ft. climbable version of the famed Blinky the Alligator.

City Play
• An area of dramatic play with everything from a chance to report on the weather to a shopping trip at Publix. (Got to train them when they’re young, right?)

Blackbox Theatre
• Calling all drama queens + kings. This mixed-use space is intended for performance art, traveling exhibits, special events, and rentals + features sprung wood floor and an AV room.

• This space is still being reimagined + will be co-designed to help bring something creative to the community.

Though partnering with Bonnet Springs, Explorations V Children’s Museum will remain its own nonprofit + will continue operating in the Historic Kress Building for the next two years.

Bonnet Springs Park is slated to open by the end of 2020, and the children’s museum’s new building is expected to open several months later – on the first day of Polk County School summer break in 2021.

– LALtoday team (Jessica and Kaylee)