Update, May 25: Gainesville city officials canceled the dedication event scheduled for Friday due to a forecast of inclement weather. They have not yet rescheduled the event, but the park will be open to the public from Friday onward.
Original story, May 23: Birds chirping and the calming sounds of nature are what you’ll hear at Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Park in Alachua County.
The park’s Nature and Culture Manager Linda Demetropoulos has been working diligently for years to get a nature center developed in the city of Gainesville.
Now that hard work will finally become a reality.
The new nature center at Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Park opens to the public Friday. She hopes that having the nature center could provide educational opportunities and outdoor activities for residents.
The newly-renovated farmhouse, now a nature center, located in Hogtown Creek Nature Park would focus on educating the public about the beginnings of the 70-acre park, which protects a variety of natural habitats. It was once former pinelands and upland mixed forest to now becoming shady fern-covered wetlands where water slowly seeps from the ground.
Nature trails, a playground and a picnic pavilion provide options for both nature-based and active recreation.
According to Demetropoulos, the park was purchased with funds from the Florida Communities Trust and with a generous donation from Home Depot.
A 2010 evaluation report done by architect Jay Reeves showed photos of the Hartman family farmhouse in 1889 before its renovation to become a nature center. It provided enough information for Reeves and his team to preserve the farmhouse during the stages of renovation.
However, the project was delayed during the pandemic, causing its budget to double, according to Demetropoulos. Since 2019, the City of Gainesville’s volunteer group known as Nature Centers Commission was working toward an estimated $400,000 project to restore the farmhouse into a nature center.
Despite the setbacks in renovating the farmhouse, Demetropoulos and her team are excited about the opening Friday and what guests can expect to learn.
“Our theme is if a creek could talk, the creek would tell you the history of the property including the natural resources and the family who lived here and had a dairy farm, and the geology and talk about the creek,” Demetropoulos said.
The park is a sanctuary where plants, animals, and historic and cultural resources are protected by law and motorized vehicles, camping, fires and digging are prohibited. The main branch of Hogtown Creek is about 10 miles and runs through the heart of Gainesville, according to Demetropoulos.
Guests can also experience an interactive exhibit room upon entering the nature center. The room will feature information about local birds guests can expect to see on the nature trail at the park and much more.
“There will be a floor to ceiling panel and it’s a schematic of the whole Hogtown Creek. It has educational bits about the creek and you can push a button and a section of the creek will light up and you can learn something about that section,” Demetropoulos said.
The center will also host Citizen Science for Kids events on the third Sunday of every month. Each event will allow only 15 children to participate and parents or a legal guardian are required to attend.
The park’s Recreation Leader Allison Bordini hopes parents and kids will be excited about the monthly program they intend to offer the community.
“It usually involves a little presentation to get kids kind of up to speed on what we’re talking about, an outdoor hands-on science portion and then usually an arts and crafts. This week instead of a craft we got to meet a live snake,” Bordini said.
Another fun activity kids can expect at the Citizen Science for Kids events is an eye-spy activity where they will read a poem written by Bordini and then search for the animals or elements within nature. According to Bordini, this activity is one of her favorites in the program because of her passion for writing.
Parents that are interested in attending with their children can sign-up by visiting the parks nature operations Facebook page to learn more, according to Bordini.
With a global pandemic requiring many to socially distance and remain home during the lockdowns, Bordini believes that now is the perfect time to reconnect with nature and learn more about science. She hopes the nature center can be that inspiration for many in the community.
“The pandemic certainly had its challenges, but nature was something that me and some of my friends, it was the only place, where we could kind of socially distance and meet up and see each other. Having that nature was so great for mental health and physical health and connecting back to the land,” Bordini said.
Park staff advise guests to arrive early to secure parking since space is limited. Food and games will be available at the grand opening and include a ribbon-cutting ceremony with City of Gainesville government officials in attendance.