Ocala, FL — Below the surface, the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park serves a vital conservation need by replenishing the Florida Aquifer with treated wastewater. From above, it’s a recreational gem that was recently added to the Florida Birding Trail,
This 60-acre engineered wetland in Ocala, Florida is a local favorite for its scenic walking trails and educational displays. It’s also a hotspot for birders, with an abundance of wading birds, songbirds, and even occasional rarities that draw visitors from near and far.
“It’s a great place for recreation, but its primary job is aquifer recharge,” according to Gaby Sullivan, the Water Conservation Coordinator for the city of Ocala. “We built this park to take treated wastewater from two of the Ocala Water Reclamation facilities and put it back into our aquifer.”
Boardwalks and well-designed paths take visitors through a variety of ponds, which are home to a variety of species including the striking red-winged blackbird. According to Cornell University’s eBird, birdwatchers have counted more than 170 species of birds at the park since its opening just a few years ago.
The park is designed as a wetland ecosystem to improve water quality and enhance regional groundwater supplies by utilizing treated wastewater. Covering a 60-acre site near Lillian Bryant Park, the park features a variety of amenities including educational exhibits and kiosks, boardwalks, two and a half miles of paved walking trails, and wildlife overlooks.
The park mimics the natural processes of a wetland and acts as a natural filtration system for the water that flows through it. Stormwater and wastewater from the surrounding area are diverted into the park, where they are treated naturally by the wetland vegetation and soil.
The treated water is then allowed to percolate down into the ground, where it recharges the Florida Aquifer, a major source of drinking water for the region.
“We treat the water so that it’s perfectly clear. You wouldn’t even know the difference between potable and wastewater,” Sullivan said. “Once that water has left our facilities, 2.5 million gallons come here to the park every single day. It enters through what we call a deep zone and then it travels to a shallow marsh. As it travels through the system that water nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are removed, and eventually the water percolates through the ground back into our aquifer.”
Black-bellied whistling ducks are regulars at the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park. So are egrets, herons, wood ducks, and a variety of other wading species. Regionally uncommon species such as Vermillion flycatchers, Mississippi kites, and Roseate spoonbills have also been spotted.
The ponds at the Wetland Recharge Park vary in depth from marshes that are just a bit soggy, to deeper ponds up to 10 feet deep. Because the water is reclaimed wastewater, no fishing, swimming or pets are allowed.
The park is designed to be truly accessible, and the two-and-a-half miles of 8-foot-wide trails and boardwalks are ideal for guests who use wheelchairs. There are also dozens of benches and overlooks to take a break and enjoy the scenery.
Ocala Wetlands Recharge Park – Photo Gallery
Ocala’s Wetland Recharge Park is a hotspot for birding in central Florida. The striking red-winged blackbird is one of the most common birds found at the park. The wetland is designed to efficiently use water resources by utilizing treated wastewater to create a wetland ecosystem, improve water quality, and boost regional groundwater supplies. The park is an ideal place for a morning walk, with scenic ponds and paved paths. The cute Carolina Chickadee is one of the park’s common songbirds. In addition to trails, the park has educational exhibits. Bridges crisscross the ponds and provide excellent views. The park’s interconnecting trails offer a variety of walking routes. The park includes 2.5 miles of paved walking trails. Pets are not allowed at the park, due to the risk of waste contamination. The park is a nice spot for nature photos. Educational kiosks illustrate the story of Florida’s aquifer. The park is a peaceful place to spend a quiet morning. The park prohibits bikes, making it ideal for walkers. It’s a great place to learn about local geology. Black-bellied whistling ducks are regulars at the park.
The Ocala Wetland Recharge Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Admission is free. It is located at 2105 NW 21st St, Ocala, FL 34475.
FAQ: Ocala Wetland Recharge Park
Q: What is the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park?
A: The Ocala Wetland Recharge Park is a 60-acre constructed wetland located in Ocala, Florida. It serves a dual purpose by providing a scenic recreational area and playing a crucial role in aquifer recharge, ensuring the sustainability of the region’s drinking water supply.
Q: How does the park contribute to aquifer recharge?
A: Treated wastewater from two Ocala Water Reclamation facilities is channeled into the park. Once treated, the water is released into the park, where it percolates through various zones, removing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, before returning to the ground and ultimately recharging the upper Florida aquifer, the source of Ocala’s drinking water.
Q: Why is aquifer recharge important?
A: Aquifer recharge is essential for ensuring a sustainable source of drinking water. It not only replenishes the region’s drinking water supply but also helps remove excess nutrients that could harm the aquifer and the surrounding environment.
Q: What makes the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park unique?
A: In addition to its critical role in water management, the park is a haven for biodiversity. Over the past few years, it has recorded over 170 different species of birds, making it a site on the great Florida Birding and Wildlife trail. It’s a place where conservation and recreation harmoniously coexist.