This is Sweetwater Branch Park. Other than the Duck Pond, it is the longest stretch of Sweetwater Branch Creek still accessible to the public. It is Gainesville’s downtown park.
2. It’s not a big park. Just a few blocks of graceful trees and gently flowing water.
Still, it is the largest area of green space remaining in downtown Gainesville. A tiny oasis of nature in an area that has more than its share of concrete and asphalt.
It is also strategically located. It is bordered on the west by the downtown entertainment district and on the east by Gainesville’s Bed & Breakfast District. Its neighbors include the Matheson Museum and the historic Matheson House, the public library headquarters and the Thelma A. Bolton Center.
Anyone who knows downtown redevelopment understands the strategic importance of a green park to the heart of a densely developed city. If you are trying to convince people to live, work and play downtown, they are going to want a park in which to stroll, run and contemplate nature’s beauty and serenity.
And yet Sweetwater Branch may be one of the most underused parks in Gainesville. The city’s Parks and Recreation Staff schedule virtually no events there. Strollers, runners or dog walkers are seldom seen in appreciable numbers.
Which is not to suggest that there are no signs of use, or abuse, of Sweetwater Branch. Indeed there are many such signs. If you talk to people in the neighborhood about why they don’t use Sweetwater Branch Park they are likely to cite public safety concerns and aggressive panhandling.
Sweetwater Branch once ran free and clear through the historic center of Gainesville.
But over the years, in the name of progress, the creek was ditched and diverted and much of it was buried as a inconvenience to development.
To the point that, today, Sweetwater Branch Park remains one of the longest relatively undisturbed portions of the creek still visible and still accessible to the public.
Unfortunately, much of the creek in the park is overgrown with invasive plants, silted up and strewn with broken bits of concrete and debris. It is a creek under stress. A creek that is less an attractive water feature than a partially hidden eyesore.
A downtown park should be a beehive of activity.
Sweetwater Branch Park could be a center for cultural events that would create an economic benefit for all of downtown: Shakespeare in the park, a showcase for Gainesville’s history, used book sales to benefit the library, Paint-outs to showcase local artists.
The possibilities are endless.
But first the city must exercise responsible stewardship over the park.
And neighbors, surrounding businesses and other stakeholders must take ownership of “their” park and demand that neglect of this most abused natural asset stop.