Florida State Parks Begins Work on New Accessible Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park
~Innovative project is among the first of its kind in the nation~
APOPKA, Fla. – The Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service is partnering with the Wekiva Wilderness Trust (WWT) to create an accessible serenity garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park to expand access and enhance the park experience for visitors with diverse abilities. This innovative project will transform a half-acre site within the park into an innovative garden oasis that creates unique opportunities for people of all abilities to relax, explore and interact with nature. The garden will create a dynamic, fully accessible environment featuring lush native plants, accessible winding paths, water elements, interactive exhibits, exercise areas and gathering spaces to facilitate educational programs and special events.
“The department is very excited about this project, which will provide groundbreaking opportunities for relaxation, contemplation and education,” said Gary Clark, DEP deputy secretary of land and recreation. “Thanks to our many partners, we will be able to create inclusive experiences at the park for all visitors, including people who use wheelchairs, people with autism and those with other chronic conditions.”
DEP is providing $50,000 in funding for the joint project, which is being managed by WWT – a nonprofit volunteer group that regularly partners with the park. Other project partners include Friends of Florida State Parks; the Seminole County Master Gardener Program with University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; occupational therapist and award winning author Dr. Amy Wagenfeld; award-winning landscape architecture firm Dix. Hite + Partners; the engineering firm of Carnahan Proctor and Cross; and Sweetwater Oaks Gardening Club.
“This is truly a pioneering effort in the advancement of equitable access to nature,” said Sarafaith Pekor, project manager. “Partnerships with healthcare organizations, occupational therapists and universities are going to ensure the project’s ability to open the park to many more people and enrich lives through outreach, education and research.”
“Expanding access and offering a unique way for people of all ages and diverse abilities to enjoy the park is something we are very excited about,” said Robert Brooks, manager of the Wekiva River Basin State Parks.
The project is currently in the design phase with work on paths, irrigation and other hardscape elements beginning soon. The total project cost is estimated to be $200,000-$250,000 and the garden is expected to be open within a year. Wekiwa Springs State Park will continue to provide a variety of recreational activities, including hiking and biking, as well as swimming in the iconic springs.
About Florida State Parks, Greenways and Trails
The Florida Park Service is the proud recipient of three National Gold Medals for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management, making Florida America’s first three-time Gold Medal winner. The awards were received in 1999, 2005 and 2013 from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association. Florida’s 174 state parks, trails and historic sites inspire residents and visitors with recreation opportunities and scenic beauty that help strengthen families, educate children, expand local economies and foster community pride. With nearly 800,000 acres, 100 miles of beaches and more than 1,500 miles of multi-use trails, residents and visitors should plan to visit soon and often to enjoy Florida’s natural treasures. Download the Florida State Parks Pocket Ranger® mobile app, available on iTunes and Android Market, to plan your trip and enhance your experience. For more information, visit www.FloridaStateParks.org.