Winter Park’s Overlooked Parks 08/11/12
Top 5 Overlooked Parks in Winter Park!
While many people are familiar with at least one or two of the parks offered in Winter Park the city actually have many that most people seem to not be aware of. The city hosts the most parks per capita in the entire state. In recent months Fleet Peoples Park seems to have gotten the most attention due to new rules regarding the bringing your pet to the park. In downtown Central Park along Winter Park’s main shopping street Park Ave is where the city hosts most events there are numerous other parks, almost all of which are within a simple walk from this park central to the city. Today though I want to look past both of these two more famous parks and instead talk about Top 5 most overlooked parks in Winter Park.
1- Shady Park, 421 New England Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789
West of the train tracks, on which SunRail will run in less than two years, that splinter Winter Park in half sits the historic African American community of Hannibal Square. Founded in 1881 Hannibal Square is one of the Nation’s Oldest African American Townships and has been a vibrant part of the Winter Park community since the late Nineteenth Century. The commercial center of the community since the very beginning has been the intersection of Pennsylvania Ave and New England Ave. Today at this corner sits the Winter Park location of Dexter’s restaurant and a barber shop. Across Pennsylvania Ave is city parking lot and Shady Park. Shady Park is a small community park whose character only shines through once you park your car and discover all it has to offer on foot.
On the northern section of the park, near the small parking lot dedicated to the park is a splash pad. In true Winter Park style though this is not just another splash pad, no this one is different, not because of the water pumps or size, but because of who designed it. This small simple splash pad was designed by the same California company that oversaw the design of the famous Bellagio fountains and those famous reverse fountain at EPCOT’s Imagination Pavilion. With these designs the stereotypical looking splash pad found here is a bit of a letdown, but once glance at the neighborhood children whose laughter fill the whole park as they play in fountain each evening and you’ll see that sometimes simple can be just right.
Shady Park as it is today was finished in 2006 after a $1.1million remodel. The park is bordered on its western edge by the Winter Park Community Center. Less than a year ago the newly remodeled community center opened providing a new option for the community. The community center itself has numerous rooms, a zero entry pool, and a stage overlooking Shady Park. Near the stage is a mural dedicated the history of the community. In between the mural and the splash pad is a small bronze bust dedicated to a community founder and just across the street is the Hannibal Square History Center that hosts numerous events throughout the year. The largest being the Unity Heritage Festival, always on the Sunday and Monday of Martin Luther King Jr weekend, that fills both the park and the roads nearby. The festival is one of the best times to visit that park as local church choirs preform on the Community Center stage, one of the largest gatherings of original Highway Men artists in the world, and numerous events throughout the park.
The park features one sculpture, from famed Miami artist Robert Chambers, called ‘The Molecular Dog’ and while the sculpture does resemble a dog it is in fact 3-carbon molecule structure for Propane. The eight foot long, five foot tall sculpture is easily visible as you drive along the roads surrounding the park. A small plaque near the sculpture talks about the sculpture itself and the use of propane.
On a more typical day the park is a great place to relax under its large shady trees or take the short walk up to Morse Blvd via its small walkway and seating area along Morse Blvd.
2- Dinky Dock Park, Ollie Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789
This small 1.5 acre park is surrounding on three sides by Rollins College with the forth side being along Lake Virginia. The park’s most popular feature is it’s easy to access public boat ramp to the Winter Park chain of lakes. A boat permit is required and day passes can be purchased for $6 across Fairbanks Ave at the Winter Park library. The ramps are only designed to accommodate boats 21′ or less in length, or 24’ for pontoon and sailboats. The park also includes a small sandy beach area for sunbathing and swimming (No lifeguards are on duty). The city takes great concern to make sure the lake is safe to swim in by testing the waters every two weeks, and more often when bacteria counts are higher than usual (last summer these higher bacteria counts caused the beach to be shut down for a short amount of time). Restrooms are in the park and are usually very clean. The park also provides grills and picnic tables creating a perfect tucked away place for a weekend on the water. During the school year the park provides excellent viewing of the Rollins water ski team as they practice on the lake.
3- Lake Island Park/MLK Jr. Park, 1050 West Morse Boulevard Winter Park, FL 32789
Coming in at just over 23 acres Martin Luther King Jr. Park is one of the larger parks in the Winter Park network. Up until last month the park was now as Lake Island Park but after a commission set out to find a community item worthy of being used as a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. the city decided that the renaming of this park would be the best option. The park, located one block east Orlando Ave (Hwy 17/92) and one block north of Fairbanks Ave, is located within the historically African American community of Hannibal Square. Morse Ave runs along its northern border and Denning forms it’s eastern border. The park features two lakes, the larger Lake Mendsen and the smaller Lake Rose, also known as Rose Sink.
While the larger section of the park surrounding Lake Mendsen has been in place for many decades the southern addition came about when Lake Rose formed in 1981. Lake Rose is now what is left of the infamous Winter Park sinkhole. Before the sinkhole was formed W Comstock Ave ran along parallel to Fairbanks Ave just one block north of it. Along Comstock Avenues southern side numerous businesses, included an exotic car dealer, and residential properties were found with a large community pool on northern side of the road. It was directly under this exotic car dealership and a residential house that this sinkhole opened up. Within one day the sinkhole grew to 320feet wide and 90feet deep swallowing the house whole along with five Porsches, five more cars, a travel trailer, and half of the Olympic size community pool. To this day it is the largest sinkhole event witnessed by man as a result of natural geological reasons or conditions. All of this though is easy to forget when you witness the lovely small tree shaded lake named after Mae Rose Williams, the first person to notice the depression, and whose house still sits at the bottom of the lake along with two of the Porsches and two other cars lost. Oddly divers report that three other cars now call the bottom of the sinkhole lake home, two 1980s style cars and one vehicle with a 2001 license plate.
Lake Rose sits quietly in one small corner of the park near the two football/soccer fields and one multipurpose field that are always busy with community and Rollins events. The park is also home to a small baseball/softball field that is the home stadium of the Rollins Lady Tars softball team. On the north side of the these fields near the original lake is a large wooden playground. The playground is directly beside the small parking area but if visiting the park do not be surprised if this small parking lot is filled, especially on weekends when events are being hosted in the fields. , with its soothing fountain, has a half mile paved walking path circling it with outdoor workout equipment and a wooden bridge. A small community building is available for rental at the corner of New England Ave and Harper Street along the southern shores of Lake Mendsen. On the north shore of the lake sits a larger center, the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center. The main room of the Civic Center features 35ft ceilings and large windows overlooking a small outdoor courtyard with Lake Mendsen as the backdrop. This facility hosts a large variety of events with weddings being a popular weekend occurrence. Following the walking path along past the civic center you’re treated to a small overlook with two benches facing Lake Mendsen allowing for perfect sunset views in the evenings.
4- Mead Botanical Gardens, 1300 South Denning Drive Winter Park, FL 32789
The second largest park in the Winter Park Mead Gardens has a long rich history dating back to at least 1940. Theodore L. Mead was an early Winter Park resident famous horticulturist known worldwide for his orchids and new varieties of caladiums, rare ferns, bromeliads. After his passing in 1936 two close friends of his wanted to make sure his collection was protected. After searching for some property they found almost fifty acres along Pennsylvania Avenue that now make up Mead Gardens. The gardens are home to two small lakes, abundant tiny waterfalls, a stream, and wetlands. A large azalea grove planted in those early years can still be found in the gardens today. Sadly one third of the original tree canopy of the park was lost in the hurricanes of 2004 causing the gardens to forever change their look.
Over the years the park has had its ups and downs going from finely manicured times to times of total disrepair. Luckily the city now seems to have a plan in place to improve and protect the park. While the park currently has an amphitheater, but this current one dates back to the mid-1950s, and there are plans for a new performance venue within the park named The Grove at Mead Botanical Gardens. The city has partnered with the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Grove will be the preferred outdoor venue for the orchestra. There are also plans of using this new venue for film, concerts, and other outdoor events. The current amphitheater host several weddings throughout the year and the new facility is bound to host countless more.
The gardens are also in the midst of opening a new nature center. A small nature center was opened in the gardens in the 1977 for Orange County Public Schools but this program was cut from the OCPS budget in 2009 due to budget cuts. The new superior nature center will be open to the public and will use the former city maintenance buildings. The new nature center will have a butterfly garden, a children’s activity garden, and plans for 3,000 new plants for the gardens. Using green building techniques the new nature center will be a welcomed addition to the community.
Mead is home to numerous events throughout the year including the All British Car Show, now in its 28th year in the gardens. In recent weeks there has been a lot of news about the new Dinky Line trail in Orlando. This is part of the Orlando Urban Trail that begins in downtown Orlando and will eventually end at the entrance of Mead Gardens providing a safe, pedestrian friendly way to access the gardens from anywhere in downtown Orlando. The gardens themselves provide a great place for an afternoon stroll on its boardwalks and nature trails and are the perfect place for a relaxing weekend picnic.
5- Kraft Azalea Park, 1365 Alabama Drive Winter Park, FL 32789
Kraft Azalea is easily the hardest of today’s five parks to locate. The park is tucked away along a small residential street in the middle of Winter Park’s residential district. The easiest way to find it is to remember is it next to the canal connecting Lake Maitland and Lake Osceola. Just take Park Ave north past the golf course and into Winter Park’s main residential district to Palmer Ave, turning onto Palmer drive till you past over this canal on a small bridge that features pink flamingos painted on it, then turn onto Alabama Drive and follow along beside the canal until you see the park.
While the space for the park dates back to 1910 at which time it was simple known as ‘the park’ it wasn’t until Midwest transplant George Kraft moved here that the park took on it’s current state. By 1928 Kraft had taken note of the park, due to his business partner Leonard J. Hackney interests in ‘the park.’ Hackney had wanted to do something with the overgrown park on the shores of Lake Maitland for some time. By this point the park was named Alabama Park after the estate of William C. Temple’s which sat across the street, now a luxury condo building and still one of the most prestige addresses in all of Winter Park. With Hackney overseeing it Kraft hired a landscape architect and transplanted large numbers of azaleas from his own gardens to the park. In 1931 the Commercial Club began sponsoring the park and brought in a nursery owner from Orlando to help bring life to the park. New walking paths and plants were added throughout the 13 acre park.
The largest feature in the park is a large exedra donated by the Kraft family to honor George and his wife Maud. The 18 feet wide and 14 feet tall sits on the shores of Lake Maitland and is hosts an inscription reading “Pause friend. Let beauty refresh the spirit.” The exedra is frequently included in the Winter Park Boat Tour.
Kraft Azalea Park features one small drinking fountain, oddly with a small plaque attached to it claiming it to be a fountain of youth. Other than this ‘fountain of youth’ and the exedra that park features very little. A small parking lot and some buildings used by the Rollins College crew team are there but no restrooms, playground, or picnic facilities can be found in or near the park.
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