Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

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Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Micanopy Paynes Prairie obs twr view01.jpg
Looking north from the Prairie observation tower
Map showing the location of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Map showing the location of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Location Alachua County, Florida, United States
Nearest city Gainesville, Florida
Coordinates 29°34′59″N 82°19′59″W / 29.5830556°N 82.3330556°W / 29.5830556; -82.3330556Coordinates: 29°34′59″N 82°19′59″W / 29.5830556°N 82.3330556°W / 29.5830556; -82.3330556
Area 21,000 acres (85 km2)
Established 1971
Governing body Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Designated December 1974

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a Florida State Park, encompassing a 21,000-acre (85 km2) savanna in Micanopy, Florida, south of Gainesville. It is also a U.S. National Natural Landmark. It is crossed by both I-75 and U.S. 441 (which has a scenic outlook ramp).


The prairie became the stronghold of the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe under chief Ahaya the Cowkeeper in the 18th century.[1] It is named for the Cowkeeper's eldest surviving son, Payne.

In 1776 the area, then known as Alachua Savannah, was visited by William Bartram who noted in his book, "Bartram's Travels", that it was used as grazing ground by the local Seminole.[2]

There have been times when the prairie's drainage became so blocked that it flooded, causing the formation of a lake. The most recent such occurrence was in 1871, and lasted until 1886. During this period, steamboats were a frequent sight on what was called Alachua Lake.[3]


Paynes Prairie is part of the Southeastern conifer forests ecoregion. The prairie itself is a large Floridian highlands freshwater marsh, composed of different herbaceous plant communities that vary based on water depth. Wet, forested areas have southern coastal plain nonriverine basin swamps of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora). Southern coastal plain blackwater river floodplain forests grow along streams. On drier uplands, southern coastal plain oak domes and hammocks of southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) grow in areas with moderately moist soils, and Florida longleaf pine sandhills grow on drier, sandier soils.[4]

Over 270 species of birds can be seen in the park as well as American alligators and small herds of Florida Cracker horses and Florida Cracker cattle, first herded by the Seminole. The plains bison were reintroduced to the park from Oklahoma in the mid-1970s, as part of the park service goal of restoring Florida's natural resources to pre-European settler conditions; they roamed this area until the early 19th century. When bison sightings occur, they usually appear along the Cone's Dike trail. The buffalo herd reached a peak of 70 animals in 2011. The park began culling excessive animals in 2012, allowing a target population of about 8 to 10 bison to be free to roam the Florida prairie.[5][6][7]

Recreational activities[edit]

The park contains exhibits and an audio-visual program at the visitor center that explains the area's natural and cultural history. A 50-foot (15 m)-high observation tower near the visitor center provides a panoramic view of the preserve. Eight different trails provide opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling. Ranger-led activities are offered on weekends, November through April. Fishing on Lake Wauburg is allowed and a boat ramp provides access for canoes and boats with electric motors. Full-facility campsites are available for overnight visitors.

The park is a 'gateway site' for the Great Florida Birding Trail.

The space shuttle could be seen from Paynes Prairie about a minute into its flight.

The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail also runs through Paynes Prairie. Several scenic view points lead off of the trail and into the park. Wildlife will often come up to the trail at certain times in the day.


The park is located at 100 Savannah Blvd., Micanopy, FL 32667. Florida state parks are open between 8 a.m. and sundown every day of the year (including holidays).

The Prairie Sheetflow[edit]

A 125-acre constructed enhancement wetland will polish the base flow from Sweetwater Branch before it is discharged to a mile long sheetflow distribution channel. Two miles of agricultural drainage canals in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park will be filled in. This will restore the historic Sheetflow to over 1300 acres of wetlands on Paynes Prairie. The project includes several recreational opportunities for the citizens of Gainesville. A network of trails will allow visitors to walk along the berms that form the enhancement wetland. An outdoor classroom will provide a sheltered place for school groups to gather and learn more about wetlands and their role in Florida’s environment. A viewing tower and Visitors Center have been planned as future additions to the park. The tower will provide unsurpassed views of Paynes Prairie in a location easily accessible to Downtown Gainesville. The solar panels on the roof of the tower will provide electrical energy to the Visitors’ Center. The natural sheetflow of Sweetwater Branch onto the Prairie was disrupted by ranchers, in the 1930s, when they constructed a ditch to drain portions of the Prairie to expand grazing areas. The ditch diverts the Sweetwater Branch flow directly to Alachua Sink, and has resulted in the dehydration and alteration of over 1,300 acres of prairie wetlands. In addition, the direct connection of Sweetwater Branch to Alachua Sink provides a more direct conduit into the Floridan Aquifer. This channelization of Sweetwater Branch through the Prairie has prevented natural attenuation of the nutrients and has depreciated the water quality flowing into Alachua Sink.

Since most of the urban development in the Sweetwater Branch drainage area occurred long before modern stormwater management and other pollution control regulations, Sweetwater Branch, and in turn the Prairie have been heavily impacted by stormwater runoff. The Main Street Water Reclamation Facility also discharges treated effluent to Sweetwater Branch and is the main contributor of nutrients to the stream.

Alachua Sink is a small lake located within Paynes Prairie, which receives flow from Sweetwater Branch and flows into a sinkhole with direct connection to the Floridan aquifer. Alachua Sink is currently listed as an impaired water body due to high nitrogen levels. A total maximum daily load (TMDL) has been developed for Alachua Sink, which will require reductions in total nitrogen loads from urban runoff, wastewater discharge and other sources


See also[edit]


External links[edit]