Lakeland's abandoned rail yard transforms into Central Florida park destination

It took $108 million in private donations and years of decontamination, but a once-polluted, 170-acre abandoned rail yard in Lakeland has finally been transformed into the Sunshine State’s newest attraction.

Bonnet Springs Park is a far cry from what it once was. 

Years ago, the railroad yard was abandoned, and the land became one of the largest homeless camps in the Lakeland.

But developers decided their inspiration for the land was worth the effort to clean it up. 

"We removed 36 tons of illegally dumped garbage off this site and remediated a water pollution source," explained Josh Henderson, the park’s CEO. "To remediate the contaminated soil, we scooped everything together and encapsulated it."

It wasn’t cheap. The transformation cost nearly $110 million, and it all came from private donations.

Sneak peek of Lakeland's Bonnet Springs Park

"The Lakeland philanthropic community has stepped up in a major way and funded this entire park," Henderson said. "It will be funded in perpetuity by private donations."

Bonnet Springs Park, which is a larger area than Disney’s Magic Kingdom, is expected to open October 22 with no admission fee.

"This is really Central Park for Central Florida," Henderson told FOX 13 during a sneak preview of the property. "We are a big property, and it will take you a few hours to walk around and check everything out."

There will be a children’s museum, tree house, café, bar, butterfly observatory, nature center and a gathering place that seats up to 400 people for special events like weddings.

Bonnet Springs Park will also have a massive green space for outdoor concerts and shows.

The park is expected to be a destination and draw from Tampa and Orlando.

"If you’re on vacation in Orlando, and it has priced you out of the market for five days’ worth of theme park tickets, we are [going to be] a great alternative to natural Florida and the Lakeland community," said Henderson.