What about Sweetwater Branch?

This is a presentation I made to the Free Speech Forum about my favorite topic. Never one to waste a Power Point presentation, it is now officially a blog.

In years to come, they will say that the Sweetwater Branch Greenway Loop was born on a bicycle. But that could be just mythology. Let’s just say that in my endless cycle-ramblings around GNV, I began to pay attention to the deplorable state of Gainesville’s First Creek. I was shocked and appalled.

So I started writing blogs and columns for the Sun about how we might reclaim a battered creek and, at the same time, create a new greenway that would tie together Gainesville’s most historic neighborhoods.

I ran across this quote in Jess Davis’ “History of Gainesville.” I appreciated the irony. Given a choice between clean water and a sewerage funnel we of course chose the latter. All the better to dispose of our treated effluent into Paynes Prairie. (Of course, later on Gainesville would have to shell out millions upon millions of dollars to atone for its abuse of Paynes Prairie.)

In a city of creeks, Sweetwater Branch is GNV’s First Creek. The town sprung up along its banks. Our only civil war battle was fought around it. When the Gainesville 8 defendants were awaiting a jury verdict in the federal courthouse, they played touch football next to the creek.

Soon Greg Young, John James and myself became the first Friends Of Sweetwater Branch.

And we started conducting walking tours of the creek. Showing folks both the beautiful parts….

…and the ugly stretches.

The more we wrote and talked about the creek the more friends we attracted. And the more possibilities we saw.

Until we conceived a greenway plan that would stretch from Sweet Water Preserve in the south to Tom Petty Park in the north. Then it would connect to the 6th Street rail-trail to form a six mile loop through the heart of GNV.

We began to reimagine the ugly ditches that used to be Sweetwater Branch.

What if we could create a duck pond-like duck pond adjacent to University Avenue?

We could do that by utilizing public land already available along the ditched creek.

Listen, the City is going to have to rebuild Thelma Bolton anyway. Why not redesign it with the idea of making it a creekside host?

And what’s with all that beautiful school board administration land sequestered behind that black iron fence? All of that green lawn and those oak trees cut off from public access and enjoyment.

Of course, not all of the proposed greenway would be amenable to a traditional rail-trail type bike-ped path.

But that’s why we invented “green lanes.” They have the double attraction of creating an inviting corridor for cyclists and pedestrians while, at the same time, calming traffic.

Hey! We got a big break when the consultants doing the downtown strategic plan noticed our greenway proposal and said “Wow! What a great idea! We need to do that!” Or words to that effect.

We of course already knew it would create a “new and exciting story.” Heck, we’ve been telling that story for the best part of two years now.

The other good thing about the downtown strategic plan is its recommendation that the City actually start treating Sweetwater Branch Park – literally downtown’s Central Park – like the “downtown jewel” it is.

Sweetwater Branch Park was envisioned by the Matheson Museum and other advocates as a “botanical wonderland.” They had big plans for the park.

Unfortunately, Sweetwater Branch – downtown’s Central Park – has long been deemed by City Parks and Rec to be little more than a “nature park” to be neglected and ignored. Little attempt has been made to create a park that people would actually want to to to and use.

Yeah. How about some Shakespeare In The Park? How about art shows and festivals and concerts?

And while we’re at it, since the park is actually named after a creek, could we please clear out all the weeds and invasives that render the creek all but invisible?

Listen, if the City had allowed that kind of neglect to occur in the Duck Pond there would have been a neighborhood uprising!

Oh yeah. The Community Foundation of North Central Florida has launched a “Gainesville Thriving Project.” They also took note of our greenway idea and decided to partner with us friends.

The GTP recognized that, back in the day, the Sweetwater Creek and the railroad that once ran along 6th Street were great dividers in our community.

But now these two former dividers between Black and White neighborhoods could become neighborhood connectors.

So the Thriving Gainesville Project is organizing a series of neighborhood festivals to celebrate our future greenway loop. They are going to be holding these festivals this coming February. Watch this space for details.

Listen, folks, we can do this. I believe it. If you do to, please tell your mayor and your city commissioners that they need to get behind this project.

Because we may be visionaries but we are not greenway designers. We need the City to fund a feasibility/design study for the Greenway Creek Loop. And then to add it to the Wild Spaces Public Spaces funding list.

Oh, by the way, Gainesville artist Eleanor Blair designed this artwork (on the right) to help us promote the Sweetwater Branch Greenway. I love it. I hope you do too. And I hope you will also become a Friend Of The Sweetwater Branch Greenway.

Because when you come right down to it, we all need all of the friends we can get.

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