A Tough Critic's Review of Naples' Freedom Park ...

Design Renaissance and Beyond

The opening of Freedom Park, a mass multi-governmental effort, has resulted in a jewel WITHIN the City. This is not a traditional park, evident the minute you enter, no views of sports fields, open woods, or large expanses of turf. Having been a part of the Wakohatchee Wetlands Design Team that accomplished a similar effort for the treatment of sewage wastewater in Palm Beach County, I have the benefit of knowing a bit about the methodology, rationale, and goals of such an typical park – they are ‘atypical’ in terms of amenities and aesthetics, and the challenges of these Parks are immense! Believe me, this is monumental for our Area in its goals of ‘development’: the treatment near the ‘headwaters’ of the Gordon River (and ultimately Naples Bay), the unprecedented cooperation of the Agencies involved, and the degree of detail by Collier County Parks and Recreation in the Boardwalk itself. What also is unique is the cost to the local taxpayer, who only bore the direct cost of 1/3 for the entire Construction! This indicates the importance, as a Regional context, to many agencies, and the taxpayer, of the Park… This park ‘elicits’ preservation, restoration, and access at every turn of the boardwalk, trails, and in the interpretive center.
This informal review of this Park is difficult, after all, is it a Park, water treatment area, aquifer recharge area? In the final analysis, it’s all three… The site essentially is bisected by the parking area, with the interpretive center cited at the crossroads between lake (to the West) and wetland (to the East), essentially ‘open sky’ to ‘wetland woods’ Florida. The entry represents a missed opportunity to elicit ‘Old Florida,’ evident in the asphalt’s ‘vivid’ striping and light style chosen. The Interpretive Center, however, with its open ceiling detail, standing-seam metal roof, and ‘wrap-around porch’ is a bit reminiscent of Cracker Architecture. Fundamentally, the Design accomplishes the task at hand, opening up to a panoramic view of nature, overlook, left, and boardwalk entrance on the right. I do wish interpretive signage were used to tout any resource-saving (Green) features. The current view to the North of the center is to struggling ornamental plantings – this key area would be better suited to provide education, sustainability, and/or display of ‘Green.’ Transitioning to the boardwalk, it was nice to see a nod to keystone-like materials utilized.
After entering the Boardwalk, the routing through the wetlands is outstanding - currently Pickeral Weed and Canna Lily are blooming, with Cypress Trees beginning their fall color change. Soon enough, the Cypress will allow more light in, the water level will recede, and the temperature change will herald in our cooler temperatures – ideal to visit! Head to the extreme South ‘end’ of the Boardwalk, look about 20’ from the northern edge, down, and check out the tree with hundreds of tiny bromeliads, some red still visible in their flower plumes…from subtlety [bromeliads hiding in trees or abstract ‘figures’ in a gnarled tree limbs] to the dynamic of nature [bird species sounding their songs or playful Otters that call part of Freedom Park home]…
Freedom Park’s memorial components are well-underway – one portion is a piece of the Twin Towers that fell during 9/11, and the other is waving-flag design cast in a ribbon that is in a state of completion. I hope that as the latter design progresses, I gain a better understanding of the intent – for now, it appears to be a monument intended for viewing from a roadway, due to its presence to the Goodlette bypass…If its intent, however, is to be a contemplative, quiet experience, the monument setting must ‘mature.’ I can’t wait to see it completed, and I understand donations continue to pour in. This Eastern expanse of the park, spatially, is vastly different - open sky Florida…the treatment ponds (lakes) and the main water feature are in this section. The walking trails have an interesting layout, and the survivability of some plantings seem in question; we’ll see how this Section matures and improves. For now, this is a great place to walk, maybe bike, and enjoy the views.
Freedom Park has the potential to become the Northern trailhead for the Gordon River Greenway. Imagine crossing Golden Gate Parkway, via a Pedestrian Overpass, getting to the South side of the Parkway, and picking up where you left off – additional trails and boardwalks for miles! Believe it! Inquire about this overpass – the opening was the first time, as I understand it, that both sides openly-agreed about the merits and concept…Freedom Park could represent just the beginning, at the center of it all…

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