Escape. Engage. Explore.
That’s what is expected from visitors — who eventually end up doing just that — at Bonnet Springs Park, located in the heart of Lakeland.
The state-of-the-art, open-air, world-class park opened in October 2022 and has become a hot new destination not only in Polk County, but in Central Florida, too.
And rightly so.
Bonnet Springs Park is massive, with amenities on top of amenities. It’s a perfect place for family outings, but also for a picnic date. It’s also an excellent choice for an afternoon stroll with your dog, or more adventurous outings.
The expansive property, with its exceptional options, is just outside downtown Lakeland. It was a long time in the making, but the public park is now open daily — and word has spread about its terrific offerings.
It definitely is worth the trip.
Explore the past
It was abandoned in the early 1980s.
It was an extensive rail yard, even claimed to be all but forgotten by resident Lakelanders. Until a group of community investors and developers stepped in to bring new life to the historic site.
Local developer David Bunch, retired Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bill Tinsley, and Carol and Barney Barnett worked together to create the now exciting Bonnet Springs Park. They purchased the rail yard and the more than a dozen adjoining properties and began the master plan and design for the park in 2016.
The site is situated between West Memorial and George Jenkins boulevards.
Remediation work began on the site in April 2019, unearthing the ecological impacts of the railroad’s steam and coal era’s transition to diesel locomotives.
The park embraces its railroad history.
Trains run next to the park, with their blaring whistles, while several park amenities feature railroad themes. There’s a playground — shaped like a train — near the Hollis Family Welcome Center. There also are displays within the center offering details about the site’s railyard days.
A popular spot at the park is Florida’s Children’s Museum. The 47,800-square-foot facility offers indoor and outdoor opportunities for science, discovery and play.
It has two floors of galleries with interactive experiences.
Bonnet Springs Park also features extreme height changes and undulations throughout. It has a slide to go down a hill and a playground that has loads of climbing obstacles and small streams, where visitors can splash around.
Engage in the view(s)
One of the main attractions at Bonnet Springs Park is the Crenshaw Canopy Walk.
At roughly 1,500 feet long and 24 feet high at its tallest point, it’s perfect for a bird’s-eye view of the park and is partially shaded by the 200-year-old grandfather oak tree in the park.
The canopy walk is just a small stroll from the Kiwanis Kid’s Treehouse, which is a fun hangout to explore, as well as a place to host events, such as birthday parties.
Both these attractions are also near the Ann and Ward Edwards Boathouse, which sits on the Blanton Family Lagoon, a 6.5-acre lagoon.
The 2,600-square-foot boathouse provides a place to rent paddleboats or grab a quick snack. Around the lagoon, there are more boardwalks that give visitors nature views.
Other amenities include the GiveWell Community Foundation Nature Center, the Depot Café, a greenhouse and a butterfly house. The event center features a ballroom that can accommodate up to 400 guests and features a ballroom, terrace, and an outdoor kitchen, overlooking the botanical gardens.
With its careful planning, its expansive offerings, its everyday features and its special events — Bonnet Springs Park, in Lakeland, is a gem.
It truly is a place with something for everyone.
Bonnet Springs Park
Where: 400 Bonnet Springs Blvd., Lakeland
When: Open daily from 6 a.m. to dusk.
Coffee Shop in the Welcome Center: Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Depot Cafe: Open 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Rooftop Garden Bar: Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Details: A once-abandoned rail yard, from the 1980s, was idle until a group of community investors and developers came together to bring new life to the historic site. The park, which opened in October 2022, represents a collaboration of local developer David Bunch, retired Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bill Tinsley, and Carol and Barney Barnett. The redeveloped site is a 168-acres park just outside of downtown Lakeland, between West Memorial Boulevard and George Jenkins Boulevard on the east side of Lake Bonnet.
It features several amenities including a Welcome Center, a cafe, coffee and gift shops, event venues, play areas, nature centers, a children’s museum, a treehouse, boardwalks, botanical and butterfly gardens, and more. The park is dog-friendly.
Info: Visit BonnetSpringsPark.com.
Published April 05, 2023