On the grounds of the Water Works Environmental Education Center, explore the historic Palatka Water Works and a short interpretive trail dedicated to William Bartram’s travels as Puc Puggy, the Flower Hunter.
Address: 1101 Whitewater Drive, Palatka
Open: Wednesdays 8:30-12:30, first Sunday of the month 1-4 PM, and by appointment
Land manager: City of Palatka
From the marina area at Riverfront Park in downtown Palatka, follow River Street through the South Historic District. Turn left on S. 13th Street, which comes to a T. Turn left on Whitewater Drive to enter the gates into the facility. There is parking and trail access behind the gardens immediately inside the gate, or follow the road to where it ends at the Water Works Building and observation deck to reach the other end of the trail and the spring-fed marshes.
Built in 1886, the Historic Palatka Water Works was an industrial-era response to dealing with a need for fresh water for the city. Today, it’s a historic site with spring-fed wetlands and environmental education, and the Puc Puggy Trail to tie it all together.
Although it has limited hours, the Water Works Environmental Education Center in Palatka is worth a visit. It provides a delightful look at Palatka’s past coupled with environmental education focused on the present. An observation deck overlooks the old waterworks, built in 1886. They were built for a very important purpose: providing both drinking water for city residents and water pressure for firefighting. Most of downtown Palatka burned down in 1884 because there was no way to put out the fire.
Burning scrap cypress from the nearby Wilson Cypress Mill to power its steam engines, the Palatka Water Works moved water from Whitewater Branch, which is fed by springs inside what’s now Ravine Gardens State Park, through brick culverts and into the city. The big tanks let the water filter through sand.
By the 1950s, the city started using wells instead of the water from the springs in the ravines. The water works stayed in operation until 1986, when a modern facility was built. These old buildings and tanks sat in disrepair for almost a decade until local residents rallied to restore the historic site.
Five community gardens occupy an open area near the entrance gate. Local residents are welcome to call the land manager to participate in the gardens.
There are essentially two short loops you can do. The first starts around the side of the historic brick Palatka Waterworks building, which is home to exhibits and a nature library for the environmental center, along with a small butterfly garden. Follow the path down to the lower level where, where marshes fill the original stone filtration tanks. You can hear bubbling water, and if you go straight ahead, can see the water-filled brick tunnel off to the left that goes beneath the railroad toward the city.
Once you’re on the far side of the marshes from the observation deck, you can follow along them up in the direction of Ravine Gardens – which is separated from this park by a fence – and back across a levee in the middle to the waterworks side again, walking along the edge of the tall tanks back to the Waterworks building.
On the opposite side of the parking area from the Waterworks building, walk into the woods near the fenceline to find the kiosk for the Puc Puggy Trail. This interpretive nature trail highlights both man-made waterworks structures hidden in the woods as well as plants that William Bartram described in his journals, such as red buckeye and wild plum.
It winds through a deciduous upland, passing by a large enclosure for gopher tortoise relocations before it crosses a bridge and comes to the back side of a kiosk. Turn right to follow the next short loop, which takes you along the interpretive trail through a denser forest before the trail emerges on the edge of the community garden. You can return the way you came by walking over to the other kiosk.
Because it is on land that William Bartram once roamed and described, the Water Works Environmental Education Center is a part of the Bartram National Recreation Trail.