Many of us are looking for ways to be active while also staying socially distanced from others. That is why Sarah Phinney started a ‘Walking Club’ to highlight some hidden, and some not so hidden, trails across the Tampa Bay area that are great places for you and your family to check out.
Se7en Wetlands is the newest City of Lakeland park. It is unlike any other place we visited so far on Walking Club. The former phosphate mining site is now a constructed treatment wetland. It opened to the public in 2018. You can now enjoy miles of trails with beautiful views of lakes, swamps and marshes. Here is what you need to know before you try it out.
What’s the backstory?
The history of Se7en Wetlands dates back a century. It was a phosphate mine beginning in the 1920s. Operations ceased in the early 1980s. The City of Lakeland purchased the land in 1985 to turn it into a constructed treatment wetland. It essentially provides final polishing for all of the City’s wastewater.
What is there to do?
There are 8.5 miles of hiking trails at Se7en Wetlands. Wetland 1 and Wetland 2 are open to the public right now.
Be sure to check the park map before you hit the trails. It will help guide you through the hike.
The Wetland 2 loop is recommended. It is about three miles long and leads to a boardwalk that overlooks another wetland. It is red on the map.
You’ll likely find plenty of wildlife during your walk. There are alligators, bobcats, river otters, bald eagles and many other species of birds.
What do first-timers need to know?
You will wind through the Loyce E. Harpe Park (there are signs along the way) and eventually land at the Gopher Tortoise Gate for Se7en Wetlands.
Restrooms can be found here so be sure to use them before hitting the trail. You will also be able to read a little bit more about the history on information displays.
Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses and water. You won’t find shade on the trails unless you stop at one of the picnic pavilions, but there is a good reason for that.
Se7en Wetlands receives all of the City of Lakeland’s treated wastewater.
Julie Vogel, Environmental Programs Specialist for the City of Lakeland’s Water Utilities at Se7en Wetlands, says visitors should think of each of the seven wetlands like a bathtub.
“The earth and berms, which are also our trails, are the bathtub walls that hold this water in place,” said Vogel. “And we want those to be in good working order, so any tree roots, any erosion, water might be able to find its way through so we just keep our trails clear and free of vegetation.”
No pets or bikes are allowed on the wetlands trail.
There are plans to open all seven wetlands to the public in the coming years. That will eventually bring the total to 22 miles of hiking trails.
Vogel also says there are also plans for another entrance and an educational center near the Gopher Tortoise Gate.
“We want to provide that education for the public. We want folks to not only enjoy this place as hikers and view our wildlife, but also learn about our water in the process.”
When should I go?
Se7en Wetlands is open 7 am to 7 pm seven days a week.