Parks are created for a lot of reasons: some from a need to protect a vital resource, others honor local heroes or celebrate some momentous occasion. There are parks designed purely for recreation: team sports as well as quiet oases that invite the visitor to linger and relax. But there are some which seem to owe their existence to the simple fact that for one reason or another, they resisted the developer's blade. These "pocket parks" are small islands of green surrounded by concrete badlands, isolated life boats of nature, the tangible evidence of our conscience as it struggles to accept the cavalier attitude with which we treat the land.
Occasionally sequestered on the back streets of placid neighborhoods, pocket parks are more often hiding in plain sight. A good example is Saratoga Lake Park at 141 University Boulevard in Jacksonville. Most of it's five acres consists of the lake itself which surrounds a small pristine wooded island. The developers of Saratoga Point decided that instead of trying to do something with this landscape, they would instead use the isle's isolation as the focal point for the subdivision. It was dedicated in 1951 as a city park with an additional access lot deeded to the city in 1985. Ironically, their largesse would spark a small controversy with the homeowners whose property surrounds the park. The developers proposed building a small pedestrian bridge to the island but the neighborhood resisted, stating that it would detract from the function and experience that the park was designed to offer- mainly its serenity.
Photo by Jaeme Haviland
Today, Saratoga Lake Park remains a wildlife sanctuary in this most suburban of settings. The lake is teeming with softshell turtles, carp and the occasional brown water snake. The island, covered in pine, silver maple, oak and cedar trees, is home to raccoons, possum and other small mammals. With the sparsity of human intrusion guaranteed, the island is also a prime breeding site for songbirds, heron, egrets, storks and osprey.
Saratoga Lake Park is awkward to enjoy unless you are a resident of the neighborhood, but there is a small picnic area on the southwest corner of the property that is open to the general public. Unfortunately, there is no parking available at the curb or in the picnic area, so the best approach might be to park your vehicle in the strip mall located at the corner of University and Atlantic, then walk 1 block to the picnic tables.