Paynes Prairie history bus tour takes visitors into the heart of Gator country

Paynes Prairie history bus tour takes visitors into the heart of Gator country

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Bison, alligators and wild horses are among the wildlife visitors to Paynes Prairie might encounter.

Paynes Prairie exists today thanks to the dedication of a group of Gainesville activists who wore white gloves and dainty hats and got together for tea while quietly plotting rebellion.

Paynes Prairie history bus tour offers close encounters with Old Florida
Peggy Macdonald

The women of the Gainesville Garden Club worked for more than a decade to transform Paynes Prairie into a preserve and state park. One of their leaders was Marjorie Harris Carr, a Micanopy mother of five who had studied zoology at Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University) and the University of Florida.

Marjorie Carr lived near the southern edge of Paynes Prairie, and her children grew up swimming in nearby Lake Wauburg. As Lars Andersen writes in his 2003 book, “Paynes Prairie–The Great Savanna: A History and Guide,” the prairie came close to being flooded as part of an ill-fated electrification project. There was talk of flooding it again decades later to create a public recreation area for swimmers and boaters.

Marjorie Carr and her fellow Gainesville Garden Club activists pressured the State of Florida to purchase this unique wetland ecosystem in 1970, and today it is a popular camping, hiking and photography mecca in the heart of north central Florida. Archie Carr, Marjorie Carr’s husband, took his University of Florida students there to study wildlife.

After Paynes Prairie was purchased by the state Marjorie Carr and other key players in the movement to restore the prairie decided that it should be returned to conditions that resembled those encountered by William Bartram in the eighteenth century. Bison, Cracker cattle, and wild horses descended from Spanish stock were reintroduced to the prairie and remain there today.

Visitors to this unique Florida park will encounter massive alligators along La Chua Trail. Wild horses and sandhill cranes are among the other Old Florida wildlife that are likely to be seen.

Lars Andersen, an author and full-time adventure guide with Adventure Outpost in High Springs, is passionate about introducing Florida residents and tourists to the wildlife and scenic beauty that are slowly disappearing all around us.

Yesterday the State of Florida’s first bear hunt in 21 years began. If a recent Department of Environmental Protection plan comes to fruition, hunting, timber harvesting and cattle ranching could be allowed at Paynes Prairie and other state parks in the near future.

Lars Andersen also discussed the degradation of north central Florida’s springs during the Matheson History Museum‘s Paynes Prairie history bus tour. Nearby Blue Springs is turning brown, Andersen said–a phenomenon that has been taking place over a period of many years at local springs.

Marjorie Carr’s efforts to save Paynes Prairie coincided with her leadership of the movement to stop construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, which was halted in 1971 with approximately one-third of the canal completed. The Ocklawaha River remains dammed at the site of Rodman Reservoir, which was created as a water source for the now-defunct barge canal.

Carr was also active in the campaign to stop the University of Florida from completing a four-lane, cross-campus throughway and 2,000-car parking lot at Lake Alice. Read more about her life and environmental legacy here.