Paynes Prairie

I attended a University of Florida Water Institute Sumposium — Sustainable Water Resources: Florida Challenges, Global Solutions — in Gainseville last week.

Prior to my trip, many collegues had encouraged me to stop by Paynes Prairie — and everyone seemed to have a story about the prairie or its history, which cloaked it with a lure of hydrologic mystery that I had to see first hand for myself.

Fortunately, as luck would have it — or in this case geography — I75 runs straight through it, for about 2 miles, a few miles north of which are the exits to Gainesville.

Shown above is a panoramic view of Paynes Prairie, taken along I75 from the rest area perched ontop the upland bluff at the north end of the prairie.

Viewing walkway along State Road 441.

Upon further inquiry about the prairie and its history at the conference, several attendees filled me in on the details of the wetland and its rich history. What I found most baffling, and alluring, was Alachua Sink, located in the prairies center; which in the early part of the century opened up (or became unclogged) and drained several feet of water from the shallow lake, turning it into a hydric prairie. The prairie sits ontop of the Floridian Aquifer — making that sink a window into the aquifer below, and presumably recharging it during the wet season.

That makes the sinks the twin counterpart — and opposite — to the coastal hugging springs whose whose water springs forth from the aquifer below, not feed into it. But I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule.

My attempts to make it out to Alachua sink were thwarted by lack of daylight and my subpar mental roadmap (and unfamiliarity) of the region.

Views of Paynes Prairie from State Road 441 and Bolen Bluff Trail

I did make it out to Bolen Bluff Trail, which proved to be rewarding in its own way. The bluff escarpment that encircles the prairie appears to be around 25 feet higher than the ground floor of the prairie below. That made for very scenic views, and was stark contrast south Florida’s Liliputian uplands, which stand just a few feet higher than the surrounding wetland.

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.Photo taken from uplands along Bolen Bluff Trail, looking down into Paynes Prairie.
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I never made Alachua Sink, down La Chua Trail.
But it will still be there, someday, when I return.
(Hopefully for the next UF Water Symposium!)

Post script:

On my way out of Gainesville, I stopped at the I75 scenic overlook to run up on the elevated viewing platform. There are “Beware of Poisonous Snakes” signs posted throughout the parking area — and it eventually occurred to me that the viewing platform was an artistic rendering (and rather well done) of a giant snake. I’m still not sure if I was supposed to beware of snakes, or it was just a subtle play on the viewing platform. In any event, below is a slide show of that viewing platform. Note the concrete walls for used for its tongue.

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