In search of Sweetwater

Lately I’ve been on the speaker’s circuit making a case for development of a Sweetwater Greenway Loop through the heart of GNV. Here’s a look at my presentation.

During Covid, I decided to do my lockdown on a bicycle, avoiding human contact and getting back in touch with the physical Gainesville. Somewhere along the way I found myself tracing the course of Gainesville’s Sweetwater Branch Creek.

Sweetwater Branch is Gainesville’s first creek. It is integral to this city’s history. And there was a time when folks bragged about its “healthy” and “pure” water.

It is also, arguably, Gainesville’s most abused creek. For much of its course it has been reduced to a weed-choked, polluted ditch. Only in The Duckpond does Sweetwater still show off its best face.

Long story short. A handful of us have been talking about the possibility of a community initiative to reclaim an abused creek and at the same time reconnect some of GNV’s oldest neighborhoods.

Soon we began taking people on walking tours of the creek. We showed them the beautiful.

And we showed them the ugly.

And we began to consider the possibility of connecting this new greenway with the Sixth Street rail-trail to form a six-mile loop through the very heart of Gainesville.

A loop that would connect Sweet Water Preserve in the south to Springhill in the east to Tom Petty Park in the north to Fifth Avenue in the west.

And we began to think about the possibilities of turning some of Sweetwater’s weed-choked ditches….

…into something resembling the Duck Pond’s lovely duck pond.

The city has to rebuild or replace the Thelma Bolton Center. What if in the process of that reimagining we could incorporate the creek and make Thelma Bolton a greenway destination?

Not far from Thelma Bolton is the oak-shaded, grassy, fenced and largely unused school administration grounds. What if we could figure a way to incorporate that very beautiful public property into the greenway?

Not all of the loop we envision could accommodate a traditional creekside trail.

Where a trail is impractical, we could make connections with “green” bike-ped lanes.

For a while we few friends felt rather like voices in the wilderness.

But then some amazing things began to happen.

First, the consultants developing the new Downtown Gainesville Strategic Plan recommended our proposed Sweetwater Branch Greenway .

And it also endorsed the idea of linking the Sweetwater Greenway up with the Sixth Street Rail-Trail to help create “a new and exciting story” for the downtown GNV area.

Then the Gainesville Thriving Project jumped on board, calling the Sweetwater Greenway Loop just the thing to unite “what was once divided.”

Our allies are growing.

Gainesville Thriving went one step further and recommended a weeklong festival along the proposed loop route. A week in which each neighborhood along the loop would have a one-day opportunity to showcase their unique heritage, special charms and aspirations for the future.

We friends are feeling more optimistic about turning this vision into a reality. Here’s what we think needs to happen in the short term.

This fall Alachua County voters will be asked to reauthorize the wildly successful Wild Places & Public Spaces option sales tax. Before that happens, voters will be presented with a list of proposed projects to be funded by the reauthorization.

We’re not asking for millions to build this new loop. Frankly, we don’t know how much it will cost. What we are asking the City Commission for is money to authorize a feasibility/design study. We want the experts to look at our idea and tell us whether it can work, how it can work, and ultimately what it will cost.

At that point we Friends of the Sweetwater Greenway Loop will get to work in earnest building broad community support and advocating for the financial wherewithal to make this vision a reality.

I went looking for Sweetwater Branch in a time of Covid. And I found more than I ever expected. Won’t you help my friends and I find it, reclaim it, and restore it to its former glory?

Tell your city commissioners you support our vision.

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