Tucked into the corner of two of the most heavily used roadways in Naples is one of prettiest places in town: Freedom Park, on the corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway.
Freedom Park had its grand opening on Tuesday, but in an early morning walk-through last week with Steve Preston from Collier County Stormwater Management, it was hard to believe we were anywhere near civilization or strolling through anything normally thought of as a “park.”
There are no ball fields, no playground areas, no concession stands, no expanses of high maintenance turfgrass, and no concrete walks. Freedom Park has miles of boardwalk, winding gently through created and natural wetlands and if the surrounding beauty holds no fascination for the visitor, consider the educational experience. Interpretive signs are in the works.
The system of created wetlands has the specific function of providing additional filtering of storm water runoff from the roadways. In simple terms, the storm water enters the area on Goodlette-Frank Road and flows through the “treatment train” of created wetlands before entering the natural wetlands and flowing into the Gordon River and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico.
The park has several covered viewing pavilions that look out onto the lakes and wetlands, providing a shady spot for wildlife watchers. It also has miles of native plants, installed “en masse” to provide a stunning visual display and a tantalizing example for homeowners. Firebush (Hamelia patens), Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum) line the trails surrounding a deep-water lake, which seems to be a favorite spot for the Great Egret. These are but a few of the plants to be seen in Freedom Park.
Fakahatchee Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) hugs the shoreline as one continues around the lake and enters the Oak Hammock area, complete with Gopher Tortoise habitat. Further along the boardwalk, the scenery begins to change, the sunlight becomes filtered and the natural wetland area begins.
Pond Apples (Annona glabra) are everywhere in the wetland, and the only sound is the chirping of birds. At the far end of the area is the Gordon River, screened by natural vegetation, but not so heavily that an Anhinga drying its wings can’t be noticed through the shrubbery.
Freedom Park was a wonderful surprise, smack in the middle of “busy-ness.” If you’re looking for something different in the way of a park, something with a truly natural “Florida” feel and an abundance of wildlife, this is certainly it.
Cathy Feser is the urban horticulture extension agent with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service. For more information on home gardening, call the Collier County Master Gardener Plant Clinic, at 353-2872 or visit the Web site: collier.ifas.ufl.edu. For specimen identification, the Extension Plant Clinic at 14700 Immokalee Road is open 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.