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Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Located at 100 Savannah Boulevard in Micanopy, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is unique in the Florida state parks system. It was designated the first state preserve in 1971 and a National Natural Landmark in 1974. The prairie basin was formed when a number of sinkholes merged.
The park comprises 22,000 acres and contains 30 miles of trails for pedestrians, equestrians, and cyclists. Some of the trails, such as the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, are multiuse, while others, The La Chua Trail, for example, are limited in use to hikers and wheelchairs. Printed maps of the trails and facilities can be obtained at the ranger station near the park’s main entrance.
A good place to learn about the park’s history and wildlife is at the visitor center. There you can watch an introductory video, view photos and exhibits of the preserve’s flora and fauna, find information about the park’s Junior Ranger program, and perhaps observe the prairie’s wildlife through a spotting scope. There is also a small bookstore that sells books and other park-related merchandise. Helpful and knowledgeable volunteers staff the visitor center. Next to the visitor center is a 50-foot-high observation tower. If you bring your binoculars, you may spot some of the megafauna—American bison or Spanish horses—that roam the prairie. Restrooms and water fountains are available.
Plains bison are native to the southeastern U.S., but by the end of the 18th century had disappeared from the region. In 1975 the Department of Natural Resources obtained ten bison from the Wichita Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. Within ten years the herd had increased to more than thirty individuals. However, an infectious disease, bovine brucellosis, was responsible for most of the herd being slaughtered. Since then its numbers have recovered, but the herd is now non-reproductive. You may sometimes see them near the observation tower or at Cone’s Dike.
Horses have also been part of the prairie landscape since the Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th century. The Spanish enslaved some of the Indians to help in herding their cattle, so these native people became expert horsemen. When the Spanish ranches were raided by the English in the 18th century, their cattle and horses were set loose. Other tribes moving into the area rounded up these animals and became expert riders as well. The Spanish horses are a smaller breed and are well-adapted to the living conditions in Florida. In 1985 Paynes, Prairie acquired one stallion and seven mares. The herd has grown since then. The horses are left free to roam wild and fend for themselves.
The Puc Puggy Campground at Paynes Prairie contains 33 full-service RV or tent campsites and 14 tent-only campsites. In addition, there are two bath houses with men’s and women’s bathrooms. The campground was named for William Bartram, the 18th-century naturalist. The native people gave him the name Puc Puggy, which translates to “flower gatherer.” Reservations at the campground can be made through Reserve America.
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