Payne’s Prairie State Preserve, FL

24 October 2015

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Payne’s Prairie State Preserve is a state preserve north of Ocala and ten miles south of Gainesville. In 1971 it became the first state preserve, and in 1974 was designated as a National Natural Landmark.
The Preserve provides trails that cater to bicyclists, equestrians, and hikers. There is also a campground and boat ramp available for use (Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Recreation and Parks).

If you want a piece of real Florida, outside of beaches and tourism, check it out!

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For my fall break weekend my parents and I walked 4-5 miles through the Preserve; under oak and pine trees, through sand, down in swamps, through swarms of mosquitoes (bring your bug spray and LAY IT ON), and even to the top of an observation tower.

Several ecosystems were represented- in some places the brush was very thick, the grass very high, and the trees very tall. However, much of the Preserve has a worn down trail to walk on, it goes through the trees as well as under the open sky. The type of landscape partakers can find their selves under varies by the trail they are on. I walked the Chacala. At one point on the trail we came across a fireplace and chimney from an old homestead, the walls of the house long gone, leaving only the foundation.

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The trail we walked

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The old homestead house

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Swampy

The observation tower overlooks the prairie basin, where today we were able to see a herd of about 15-20 bison, all female, and 6-7 wild horses (direct descendants of the Spanish horses first brought to Florida).

This was seriously the coolest thing. The bison looked like big brown boulders from the observation tower. Through a spotting scope provided by a park ranger we were able to see them at an up close view.  They were really wooly and shaggy, with big black horns. We also saw some of them running, or frolicking as my mom said, through the Prairie. I was not able to see the horses up close, but we did see the herd make its way across the Prairie.

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The prairie basin

The weather for our hike was absolutely beautiful. The sun was a little warm when there was no tree cover, but in the shade it was very pleasant, with a slight breeze. The sky was also a miraculous shade of blue, with fluffy white clouds decorating it. My only complaint was the bugs; the mosquitoes were out and biting with vengeance.

We had planned to hammock and make some coffee and tea (mint for me) with my dad’s portable stove, but the bugs were so bad that we had to keep moving. We ended up stumbling upon a geocache, which we signed and left a friendship bracelet in. I also made friends with a rhino beetle who was chilling in the geocache container. I had fun snapping photos and hanging out with my parents, despite the bugs and wrench in our plans.

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My new rhino beetle friend and the tree the geocache was in

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Overall, I would definitely go back! I mean, where else do you get to see wild bison in Florida?? It’s also hard not to enjoy mostly shady trails and easy to navigate paths. Plus, if you’re on the right trail you could see some alligators.

Just remember your bug spray, really seriously remember the bug spray.

-Rachel (northeast, FL)

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