Encompassing 22,000-acres of wet and dry savanna in Micanopy, Florida, south of Gainesville, this Florida State Park features more than 20 distinct biological communities which provide a rich array of habitats for wildlife and livestock. Waves of diverse people settled the area for over 12,000 years. A rich prehistory of Paleo, Cades Pond, and Alachua people were followed by the historic Potano Indians, Spanish adventurers, Seminole Indians and finally Americans from the north. The wilderness, now called Paynes Prairie, has always proved an irresistible lure to the explorer and the adventurer.
WHAT YOU MAY SEE AT THIS NATIONAL NATURAL LANDMARK STATE PARK
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 non-riverine basin swamps of bald cypress and swamp tupelo. Southern coastal blackwater forests grow along streams. On drier uplands, hammocks of southern live oak grow in areas with moderately moist soils, and Florida longleaf pine sandhills grow on drier, sandier soils.
Over 270 species of birds, including large migratory flocks of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes, can be seen in the park as well as American Alligators and small herds of Florida Cracker Horses and Florida Cracker Cattle (both containing descendants of horses and cattle from the Spanish Colonial Period). The plains bison were reintroduced to the park from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in 1975, as part of the park service goal of restoring Florida's natural resources to pre-European settler conditions; they roamed this area until the late 18th century. When bison sightings occur, they usually appear along the Cone's Dike trail.
A good place to start explorations of the Preserve is the visitor center near the historic town of Micanopy. Exhibits, stunning photography and an audio-visual program explain the area’s natural significance and cultural history. A 50-foot-high observation tower provides panoramic views and a chance to see the bison or wild horses. Reconnect to nature at Paynes Prairie on more than 30 miles of trails for equestrians, hikers and bicyclists through a variety of ecosystems. Spend a night camped under the stars at the full facility campground. Participate in a ranger-led activity on weekends, November to April. A public boat ramp for canoes, kayaks and small boats with electric motors is located on the east side of nearly 300-acre Lake Wauberg. For anglers, the day’s catch may include bass, bream or speckled perch. Florida freshwater fishing license required.
In early colonial La Florida, Spaniards capitalized on the agricultural societies they encountered. Apalachee and Timucua Indians grew and harvested corn for the colonists. The diminishing indigenous population, meant less food supplied by the Indian societies, and led the Spanish to engage in new uses of the land. Raising livestock became central to the Spanish Florida economy by the middle of the 17th century.
Andalusian/Caribbean descended cattle were the first in today's United States. Some scholars believe that cattle brought by the expeditions of Ponce de Leon in 1521 and Don Diego de Maldonado in 1540 escaped and survived in the wild. Organized ranching began with the founding of St. Augustine in 1565, when cattle from Spain and Cuba formed the basis of herds that fed the garrison and surrounding communities. In addition to herds owned by the Spanish and Indians, wild cattle flourished in the rangelands and prairies. Eventually Spanish colonists began exporting cattle to Cuba. During the 1600s, Spanish clergy raised cattle at the missions, and Native Americans learned to tend them.
Around 1637, Francisco Menéndez Márquez, the royal treasurer of Spanish Florida, established Rancho la Chúa in the vicinity of Paynes Prairie. It spanned 87 square miles and by the late 17th-century became the largest cattle ranch in the colony.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, Florida Memory Project, Visit Gainesville, Explore Southern History, Wikipedia
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors