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Highway 50 Revisited

Exploring one of the busiest, yet most overlooked, roadways in our region

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For what it’s worth, I didn’t spot the “Grills for Kids” stall on any of my recent trips to the mall.

Barnett Park

4801 W. Colonial Drive

Paul Hiebing

Cloistered between the Scylla of the Orlando Auto Auction and the Charybdis that is the Central Florida Fairgrounds in Pine Hills sits one of Orlando’s most underappreciated city treasures. Perhaps you’ve heard of it – it’s called Barnett Park.

It’s easy to be misled about what you’ll find when you get there. The tiny dirt entry into the park’s complex, after all, is flanked by a dingy parking lot on one side and a dusty flea market on the other. But once you worm your way down the drive (and over several nerve-rattling dips in the road) you find yourself baffled that the Orange County Parks and Recreation department doesn’t have a bigger boner about this park.

Spread out over 159 acres of well-kept grounds, Barnett Park is home to a ton of activities. There’s a paintball arena, a pro BMX track, two 18-hole disc golf courses, batting cages, golf driving ranges, tennis courts, a skate park, a boat launch and that’s only scratching the surface. The disc-golf courses are peppered with challenging hazards, making effective use of the natural ponds, dense and spiny brush, and (admittedly not-so-natural) power poles that give the park much of its character. It’s hard not to appreciate living in Orlando while casually walking around the outdoors on a warm winter afternoon, haphazardly chucking discs into the unknown, listening as the breeze catches the “pip-pip-pip” of paintball duels in the distance.

Barnett Park also houses a fitness center and gymnasium, the latter of which has a regulation-sized basketball court used by area schools. Sitting like a stucco bulldog in the middle of the park, the fitness center contains your typical arrangement of workout equipment, but offers its amenities to the neighborhood (and general public) for just $100 a year. And some truly interesting community activities happen in there, as well – tournament games of the Orange County Clash, Orlando’s own quad-wheelchair rugby team, for instance.

If you want to really appreciate the impact of the place, though, you’ve got to go there on the weekend. You can’t come on a weekend and fail to miss the smell of barbecue or hear the squeals of children playing at a party. (Side note: Whoever is renting the bounce houses, weekend in and weekend out, to groups using this park has got to be making killer bank.)

And it’s found in the unlikeliest of areas in Orlando: off West Colonial Drive, where car lots and strip malls rule the landscape like paved golems.

Strictly Skillz

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