Located on the southern border of Gainesville, Paynes Prairie is a 22,000-acre State Preserve managed by the Florida Park Service. It is one of the most significant natural and scenic features in Florida.

The prairie basin was formed when slightly acidic water, over the course of thousands of years, filters through underlying limestone beneath the land surface. The limestone slowly dissolves, and subsequently settles into a honeycomb of sinks and basins filled with marsh and wet prairie vegetation.

Native American artifacts found in the prairie are dated as far back as 10,000 B.C.E.

The Spanish had a ranch here in the 1500s called La Chua, from which the name "Alachua" was established. This was the largest and most important cattle operation in Spanish Florida. The Spanish and their Native American allies were forced out by the English. Sometime later, the Seminoles settled the prairie until they, too, were driven out by the English. William Bartram passed through this area in 1774, and referred to the prairie as the 'Great Alachua Savannah' in his description of the basin and its wildlife.

Most of the wildlife described by Bartram can still be found in the prairie in great abundance. Sandhill cranes, hawks and waterfowl overwinter on the prairie, and some are year-round residents.

At this time, the Seminoles-led by King Payne-inhabited the area. They engaged in several raids in this area during the Second Seminole War.

Alachua Sink-the heart and soul of Paynes Prairie-is found at the beginning of the La Chua trail. The sink has been a gathering spot for people and prehistoric animals for thousands of years, and also served as a steamboat landing and train spot. All of the water which flows to the prairie from Bivens Arm lake in Gainesville, Sweetwater Branch creek in Gainesville and Prairie Creek south of Newnan's Lake eventually drain into this enormous sink. In 1871, the sink clogged up, which transformed the prairie into an immense lake. Ferry boats (the largest of which was the "Chacala"-a 32-foot steam yacht) used to ply this lake from Gainesville to Micanopy and back. In 1891, the sink opened up again, the lake suddenly drained, and Gainesville residents were startled (and fishermen disappointed) to see that the lake was now, overnight, a prairie again.

The La Chua Trailhead provides access to a walking trail that brings one within close proximity to a disconcertingly large population of alligators.

Paynes Prairie boasts a spectacular diversity of plant and animal life. Containing wetlands, upland hammocks and pine flatwoods, the Prairie is home to 800 species of plants and 350 species of animals.

The Prairie is home to the largest population of Bald Eagles outside of Alaska

Source: Dom Nozzi - My Eyes Wide Adventures

Paynes Prairie is biologically, geologically, and historically unique. This park became Florida´s first state preserve in 1971 and is now designated as a National Natural Landmark. Noted artist and naturalist William Bartram called it the great Alachua Savannah when he wrote about his visit to the prairie in 1774.

Over 20 distinct biological communities provide a rich array of habitats for wildlife, including alligators, bison, wild horses, and over 270 species of birds. Exhibits and an audio-visual program at the visitor center explain the area´s natural and cultural history. A 50-foot-high observation tower near the visitor center provides a panoramic view of the preserve.

Eight trails provide opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling. Ranger-led activities are offered on weekends, November through April. Fishing on Lake Wauberg is allowed and a boat ramp provides access for canoes and boats with electric motors. Gasoline powered boats are not allowed. Full-facility campsites are available for overnight visitors. Located on U.S. 441, 10 miles south of Gainesville.

Source: Florida State Parks

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