While browsing for Bartram Trail markers around Welaka, we came across this little city park with a lot of activity: not people, since no one else was there, but birds.
Carved out of some surplus ponds that the adjacent Welaka Fish Hatchery, established in 1926, no longer needed or wanted, this park is in two parts.
The front portion, seen from the highway, has a ballfield, picnic tables, and a playground. The interesting part is hidden behind those.
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Length: 0.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.4730, -81.6644
Address: 738 CR 309, Welaka
Restroom: Near the racquetball
Land manager: Town of Welaka
Open daily when the gate is open. There are picnic tables and a BBQ pavilion, as well as a health trail along the hiking trail. We did not see signs regarding whether dogs were or weren’t allowed.
Recreational facilities include a racquetball court, sand volleyball courts, and an open field for ball games.
From US 17 south of Palatka, follow Georgetown Point Rd (CR 309) south into Welaka. After you pass the intersection at Elm Street with a convenience store, CR 309 leads you through the fish hatchery. Look for a small sign and chain-link fence on the left after you’re past the fish ponds on the right.
An old access road leads straight back from the parking area. On either side are rectangular wetland pools.
There is little in the way of open water, and a great deal of activity going on, from frogs and alligators along the edges to herons perched in the shrubs.
A pair of sandhill cranes stuck close to one spot, making us think they might be regulars with a nest.
Side paths lead to the right, with abandoned old trail fitness equipment slipping under the waters of the marsh, which has risen enough to swamp those trails. It’s a little eerie.
Stick to the main, straight-forward path, which eventually gains a little elevation before it enters a hardwood hammock.
Where the trail reaches the back fence, there is an option to go left.
We turned around here, but it appears from the aerial view that the left turn will let you loop back around to the first wetland nearest the playground.
The park is older and has somewhat of an abandoned look to it. The restrooms weren’t in the best of shape.
However, later in the day we saw families playing on the playground.
It could be that the town doesn’t have much of a budget for park upkeep. But it is a unique place for birding.
See our photos of 40 Acre Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
At Mud Spring, mud isn’t what you’ll see in the gently rounded basin that cradles an underwater garden. This glassy natural pool is the payoff halfway around a 1.7-mile hike that is one of the highlights of Welaka State Forest.
Discover the beauty of Welaka State Forest on a 5 mile footpath that winds along ecotones and hugs the bluffs of the St. Johns River to showcase the natural wonders that botanist William Bartram documented in 1774.
A stop along the Bartram Trail, the Beecher Run Nature Trail at Welaka National Fish Hatchery provides a walk beneath ancient pines along the edge of the hatchery ponds, which are fed by historic Beecher Spring.