LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A park larger in size than Disney’s Magic Kingdom and with no admission fee is set to open in Polk County later this year.
“We will be the Central Park for Central Florida based right here in Lakeland,” said Bonnet Springs Park CEO Josh Henderson.
The 168-acre property in the northwest quadrant of Lakeland has gone through a transformation. It was once a rail yard with orange groves. After that, it sat abandoned for years before discussions began in 2015 to develop it into a park.
“We removed 36 tons of illegally dumped garbage off of this site. We remediated a water pollution source,” said Henderson.
Leaders broke ground on the park in March 2020.
The public, free to access park cost $110 million to build, funded solely with donations. That fact is clear with the names of destinations around the park.
There’s the Allen & Company Family Lawn, the Hollis Family Welcome Center, the Ruthven Family Playground, the Kiwanis Cares for Kids Treehouse, the Harrell Family Gardens and Harrell Greenhouse and the Lakeland Regional Health Circulator, among others.
The project was also championed and funded by donations from Carol Jenkins Barnett, a Lakeland-based philanthropist and Publix heiress who passed away in late 2021. Donations to the park can be made through the Carol Jenkins Barnett Endowment Fund.
“Bonnet Springs Park was Carol’s last mission for our community and we will forever be grateful for that,” said Henderson.
Exploration V, a children’s museum in downtown Lakeland, is transitioning and expanding into the Florida Children’s Museum at the park. Admission to the museum will cost money.
The Allen & Company Family Lawn will be home to events and concerts. A different venue is designed to host weddings, family reunions and other events.
A boathouse sits beside a 6.5-acre lagoon, with canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals available.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office will be providing volunteers from the Citizens Assisted Patrol (CAP) program to assist with security.
“The Bonnet Springs Park CAP patrol will be a great addition to the program that we hope will result in even more opportunities to bring people together and keep the park a safe and enjoyable place to relax and enjoy the outdoors,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.
Bonnet Springs Park will be utilizing third-party security in addition to the sheriff’s office volunteers.
Henderson views the privately-funded public park as an alternative to other attractions across the central Florida area, for locals and tourists alike.
“If you’re on vacation in Orlando and it’s priced you out of the market for five days worth of theme park tickets, we are a great alternative to experience natural Florida and the Lakeland community,” said Henderson.
The grand opening for Bonnet Springs Park is scheduled for Oct. 22, 2022.