Watch Buffalo Graze at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Florida | Reader's Digest

Watch Buffalo Graze at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Florida

from Off the Beaten Path | 318

100 Savannah Blvd., Micanopy, Florida

If King Payne, chief of the Seminoles, (who was killed in a battle with American settlers near the Georgia border in 1812) could have imagined that the white man would name a prairie in his honor, he would have been doubly surprised—because in his time this basin was a vast lake.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Florida© 2009 Both Florida Department of Environmental ProtectionOver the centuries this area of north-central Florida changed from a huge lake to savanna. Today buffalo graze in the grasslands.

It was also a lake when explorer Hernando de Soto saw it in about 1540, and there was water here when naturalist William Bartram visited the site in 1774. But the water has had a way of coming and going in this huge saucerlike basin because of a sinkhole in one corner.

From time to time the sinkhole would fill with debris, and the water would rise and remain. Years later the sinkhole would become “unplugged;” that is, the water would drain away, and the area would revert to savanna. In 1892 a small steamer plying the lake was stranded when the water disappeared. Since that time the basin has been a treeless prairie.

In 1970 some 18,000 acres here were purchased by the state, and preservation of the prairie and its historic function as a habitat for wildlife was thus assured. A program is now in operation to perpetuate the ecosystem that Bartram once observed and recorded. American buffalo have been reintroduced, and efforts are being made to breed native scrub cattle similar to the Andalusian stock first brought to Florida by Spanish settlers.

A fine panoramic view of the prairie can be enjoyed from a 50-foot observation tower. The birding is superb. A list of 241 species seen here is available at the visitors center. Also listed are 27 mammals, 41 reptiles, and 20 amphibians native to the area. An audiovisual program explains the purpose and scope of the activity here, and Indian artifacts are on display. The region was inhabited as early as 10,000 B.C.

A recreation area at Lake Wauberg and Sawgrass Pond is popular among visitors for picnicking, kayaking, boating, and fishing. In addition, the preserve has several miles of riding trails. On Saturdays from November through April, buffalo and other wildlife are best seen during guided observation walks.

Open year-round.

www.floridastateparks.org
(352) 466-3397