Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

The CurbCrusher gang hit the road this past weekend for a couple of nights in our second home. We headed north out of Orlando, up Florida’s Turnpike and I-75 to Payne’s Prairie State Preserve, located just south of Gainesville near Micanopy. We first visited this park in 2004 in the 5th wheel over Thanksgiving. Little CurbCrusher had a bike accident, and we ended up at the Shands Emergency Room ruining some poor resident’s Thanksgiving dinner. For that reason, Little CurbCrusher has been against visiting this park again, but we finally talked her into it.

This campground has about 50 sites, of which about 15 are tent only. The road through the campground is paved, but the sites are dirt (or in the case of this last Saturday, mud). If you go during a time that is very rainy, you probably should try and stay in the sites on the outside of the loop. It seemed that the sites on the inside of the loop were big puddles after it rained. I think it was site number 1 that had a small 15 – 20 ft trailer on it, and the trailer was in the middle of a lake. I don’t know what time the folks woke up, but if they tried to leave their rig before about 11 AM this last Saturday, they had a short swim. The sites and campground road are wide enough that it’s fairly easy to back into your campsite. 30 amp service and water account for your hookups. There is a single dump station as you exit the camping loop. We didn’t experience any problems, but I imagine if more than one rig is waiting to use the dump station, the campground road will be impassable. The bathhouses were clean and functional, nothing great, but nothing bad either.

The park itself is fairly large. There are a number of trails for walking and they allow bikes also. It is about a mile and a half from the campground to the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center is located right on the prairie, and has all the anticipated features; bathrooms, some exhibits and a short film. The film gives the history of the prairie from the time it was “discovered” by Colonial Americans in 1774. At one time the prairie’s drainage was clogged and for a number of years it was a big lake, with steamboats crossing it. Then the drainage was restored and it reverted to prairie status, and took on the appearance of today. The animals found on the prairie included buffalo, wild horses and scrub cattle. Today there is a small herd of each that is maintained in the free-range area.

A short walk from the Visitor’s Center is an observation tower that puts you about 40 feet above the prairie. According to the brochure, from the tower you can see bison, wild horses and scrub cattle, along with a large variety of birds. We didn’t see the bison from the tower, although that was Lady CurbCrusher’s goal in making the trip to Payne’s Prairie. We had not seen any bison on our last trip, and she really wanted to see some on this trip. From the tower you can see part of the Cones Dike trail which runs for about four miles into the free-range area. A couple was up on the tower at the same time as the CurbCrusher family. Lady CurbCrusher and the other lady had their binoculars out looking for wildlife. The other lady calls out that she sees something moving out in the prairie and suggests that it is a horse or a buffalo. Lady CurbCrusher looks over and tries to find it, finally seeing it and saying, “That looks like a bicyclist.” The guy, with the lady looks through his binoculars and finally finds the moving object, and agrees, it is a bicyclist by saying “By golly Angie, I think what you’ve found you a man.”

We took a couple of hours and left the park to wander to Micanopy (pronounced mika-noo-pee). This is a small town with a “business” district that is probably about a quarter of a mile long. There are a couple of nice older homes in the town, one appears to be a bed and breakfast, and most of the stores are “antique” stores. These are actually the kind of antique stores that I like, not a lot of polished fancy stuff, but mostly old stuff that sometimes hasn’t been dusted or cleaned. This is mixed in with some shops that are more polished, or have “art,” but there are not enough of those to ruin the atmosphere. The stores do not open until 10 or 11, and sometimes not even then. There were a couple of stores that had “We’re Open” signs out, but when we tried the enter some one would holler from the back “We’re not open yet.” It would appear that operating hours are more of ‘From when we get here ‘till when we leave.”

Later Saturday afternoon, Little CurbCrusher was busy at the playground, and Lady CurbCrusher was sitting out having a read. CurbCrusher decided he needed a bike trip, so it was back up to the Visitor’s Center and out onto Cones Dike trail. Because of the rain, there was a lot of standing water on the trail, some of the biking was through the mud. If you plan on using a bike on this trail, you need to be able to lift your bike over the gate that blocks the path, as the chute you walk through to access the trail by foot is narrow and has two ninety degree turns in it. Once on the trail, the ride was nice. After about a mile and half a couple of people were standing with their bikes in the middle of the trail so I slowed down and approached them. About 50 yards ahead, a group of five or six buffalo where gathered on the dike. Pretty cool. The other folks left, and I stood and watched the bison for a while, then got on the bike and rode back to the campsite, having accomplished the goal of seeing the buffalo.

Pictures of the campsite and park are here.

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