2023 People's Choice Award Top Vote Getter Is ...

Congratulations to this year's Great Places in Florida Public Choice Award top vote-getter: The Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat.

This year's theme was Great Resilient Places. Find out what the Village of Wellington is doing to ensure this Florida treasure is around for future generations!

The Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat (Section 24) is a 365-acre rainwater storage area with nature trails and learning centers. It was built through a partnership between South Florida Water Management District and Wellington. In compliance with the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, rainwater from Wellington must be cleansed of phosphorus before it enters the Florida Everglades.

The preserve is owned, operated, and maintained by the Village of Wellington and as a public space embodies this year’s theme Great Resilient Place. The preserve serves multiple functions as a water storage impoundment and filter marsh as well as a park and recreation amenity complete with walking and equestrian trails as well as upland and wetland areas and environmental education opportunities. Rarely does a facility check all the boxes but this facility coupled with this year’s theme and criteria, does just that.

Section 24 is is characterized by solutions that address problems across multiple sectors including, water management, environmental enhancement and public recreation. It was developed through intergovernmental cooperation and addresses issues that are local and regional in nature. As a public space, it provides access to recreational and environmental benefits across all populations. The intergovernmental approach utilized in its design and construction provides a best practice that can be replicated in other areas. The operation of Section 24 addresses not only the environmental aspects of water management but also reduces community risk and vulnerability by providing flood attenuation in the drainage basin. Lastly, the natural and created habits within the preserve benefit biodiversity and the natural systems in the community.

In order to accomplish this, Wellington’s drainage system was modified, including seven stormwater Pump Stations being built or renovated along with the widening of nearby canals. Approximately one inch of rainwater from the drainage basin was re-routed to reach Section 24. It is then naturally cleansed as it flows through over two miles of combined wetland/marsh area, littoral shelves and deep water sediment traps. Interior uplands and native landscaping provide an exhibition of natural Florida from the paved pedestrian path and boardwalk to seven designated learning areas. There is a large decorative trellis and six-story observation tower located at two of these learning areas. The area also includes a 3.6-mile perimeter equestrian trail that is an extension of the approximately 65-mile Wellington bridle trail system.

Wellington is a 45 square mile, mostly residential community and world class equestrian destination, located in Palm Beach County, Florida. The primarily equestrian area located in the southern half of the Village historically drained south directly into the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge), which is part of the Florida Everglades. The 1994 Everglades Forever Act (EFA) included a mandate that waters discharging into the Refuge after December 31, 2006, must comply with the State of Florida surface water quality standards. As part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat was planned and constructed to comply with EFA requirements while maintaining historical levels of flood protection. An additional benefit included the provision of natural areas for the recreational benefit and enjoyment by the public.

The synergistic result of numerous engineered improvements is ahigh-functioning water management system that serves the dual purposes of providing flood protection and enhancing stormwater runoff quality. The innovation in its design comes largely from the multi-faceted combination of the components. In order to maintain flood protection within Wellington, canal improvements and the creation of a surface water impoundment was necessary. The impoundment, provides the drainage basin with an additional 255 million gallons of off-line water storage.

The project includes: 365-acres water storage impoundment, a structural perimeter berm (levee), a 90,000 gpm stormwater pump station and operable control structure, interior uplands and landscaping, hardscape areas with educational and • viewing areas and tower, equestrian and pedestrian trails and boardwalks.

The project achieved increased water quality and wildlife use through wetland plantings, construction of the 365-acre wetland/marsh area, construction of littoral shelves and sediment traps within the canals, as well as automated trash racks/rakes at the stormwater pump stations.