A community park in Welaka, 40 Acre Park is a great stop for birding, with little-used trails that ramble around a series of wetlands once used in the fish hatchery.
Address: 789 County Road 309, Welaka
Open: Daily when the gate is open
Land manager: Town of Welaka
From US 17, 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.
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.
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 it 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.