Alachua County Forever Opens Sweetwater Preserve

Alachua County Forever Opens Sweetwater Preserve
Alachua County Forever opens it fifth property
Instead of a ribbon cutting, Sweetwater Preserve had a vine cutting for its opening on July 18,2008

Alachua County Forever opened its fifth property to the public on July 19, 2008, with a vine cutting at Sweetwater Preserve.

Two reasons to cheer – new trails to walk plus another piece of natural Florida saved from concrete and condos.

Alachua County Forever opens its fifth property

Bob Simons, a member of the Alachua County Land Conservation Board, along with Sandra Vardaman, county land conservation biologist, Alachua County Commission Chair Rodney Long and Robert Hutchinson, executive director of the Alachua Conservation Trust, used branch cutters to snip away at the vines. It took a few snips and some laughter but they got the job done.

Sweetwater Preserve has two walking trails

Onlookers divided into two groups for guided walks around the property. There are two trails. A West Trail for 1.75 miles and an East Trail, a 1.2-mile walk. The 1.2 nature walk starts out as a sand trail with cut logs on the sides and takes visitors through eight different natural communities, as elevations change from high and sandy to low and swampy. The natural community names sound exotic, like way stations in a science fiction novel – upland mixed forest, seepage slope forest, sinkhole lake, xeric hammock and floodplain forest.

mark stowe shows walking sticks on underside of a palmetto leaf at Sweetwater preserve
Mark Stowe shows walking sticks on underside of a palmetto leaf at Sweetwater preserve

On the guided opening day walk, a Gainesville spider expert, Mark Stowe, a research assistant in University of Florida’s Department of Zoology, kneels down and uncovers a purse web at the base of a tree. You had to squint and look close to see it – a flexible tube the color of the tree – but once revealed walkers start spotting others along the trail.
Stowe turns over a palmetto leaf to reveal walking sticks on the other side. Perhaps trying to hide but they don’t succeed. Seems bears like to eat them a lot.

Erick Smith shows a pygmy hickory growing in Sweetwater Preserve

Erick Smith,
private consultant, led one walk. He advised staying on the trail as the area is loaded with ticks. If you go walking here, wear long trousers, tuck trouser bottoms inside socks, and check yourself afterwards. This is good advice.
Sweetwater Preserve covers 125 acres and was purchased in 2006 by Alachua County with funding from Alachua County Forever Bond and a Florida Communities Trust grant. The land sits just north of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park but a fence divides the two and there is no place to cross from one to the other at this time.

A couple walks their dog on the Sweetwater Preserve trail

Sweetwater Preserve used to be pastureland

For many years this was pastureland. As the biologists like to say, it is “highly disturbed” but promising. Lots of restoration ideas are going to get a tryout here. Go now and come back in a year and things will be much different.

Enjoy the details – a zigzag spider web with a white zig zag in the middle of the web. No one knows why the spider does this. Stowe suggests the spider is making an announcement to birds that “you don’t want to preen your feathers and I don’t want to build a new web so why not stay clear?”

Sweetwater Preserve Trailhead is 1200 feet north of the Boulware Springs Park Gainesville-Hawthorne Trailhead (see map). Park here and walk or bike to Sweetwater. If you are riding a bike, chain up on the cool snake bike rack at the Sweetwater Trailhead. Designed by Kevin Ratkus of Alachua County Forever one end depicts a Scarlet King Snake and the other end has a Coral Snake painted on the bars. An information kiosk has free trail maps of Sweetwater Preserve or you can download them.

location map for Sweetwater Preserve
location map for Sweetwater Preserve

©2008 Lucy Beebe Tobias,all rights reserved.Lucy Beebe Tobias is a Florida Environmental Writer. Her book “50 Great Walks in Florida” is available at


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