The latest nominee for Florida’s Special Places comes from Margaret Spontak, Audubon Florida’s own Director of Gifts and Grants. She has nominated beautiful Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park located just south of Gainesville. Have you ever visited this special place? What kind of wildlife did you see? Let us know in the comment section below or on Facebook! Enjoy:
In anticipation of being cooped up in the house for several days due to the rains of Tropical Storm Isaac, Vince and I planned a date to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park followed by dinner at one of our favorite casual dining spots in Micanopy – Blue Highway Pizzeria.
One of my favorite authors, Al Burt, wrote many a story about North Central Florida and what he referred to as The Tropic of Cracker. He described the Tropic of Cracker:
“a thing of the mind, a matter of memories and appreciations, of recalling people and things and places that you would sacrifice to bring back, things whose value goes beyond the measures of numbers.“
Nothing is more southern and sensual as a chorus of cicadas singing to a backdrop of live oaks draped by Spanish moss with an understory of beauty berry bushes, saw palmettos, chickasaw plums, magnolias, bays, and winged elms. Although we went in search of those mysterious bison or some of the Prairies’s colorful birds, we were taken by the beautifully lush forest that seemed happy due to recent rains. The moist gumbo clay along the trails and small wetlands, filled with frogs and visiting dragonflies, were recent memories of welcome water.
Beyond the well-trodden trails, the forest was alive with white-tailed deer, even a doe with two yearlings, and a flock of six gobblers displaying their proud, flowing beards. Tracks tipped us off to their presence. It was great fun to stop at each break in the thick forest to spot what might be visiting the meadow.
After our trek down Cone’s Dike trail, we circled back to Wacahoota Trail. As we climbed the observation tower and looked far across the prairie, listening to the sound of an occasional owl and a chorus of prairie birds, I thought to myself what William Bartram, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and others thought before us, this is truly one of Florida’s Special Places.