Unusual wildlife on La Chua trail in Paynes Prairie

Earlier this week, tropical storm Betty rumbled over northern Florida, delivering some much-reeded rain to our perennially dry summer coffers.  But then it kept raining and raining and raining.  Some estimates have the rainfall as high as 25-30 inches in parts of north Florida.

Tropical Storm Betty

Tropical Storm Betty dumped more than two feet of water on north Florida.

In Alachua County, a lot of that rainfall drains into Paynes Prairie – a 22,000-acre preserve with a variety of ecosystems and wildlife.

One of the things I’m always looking for are places where you can forget that you’re living in the 21st century, even if only for a moment.  I cherish the moments where I can look out into the horizon and not see any roads, billboards, drugstores or golden arches.  In Paynes Prairie, there’s plenty of moments like that.

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Kayaking Silver River in Ocala, Fla.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic river in central Florida than Silver River.  The slow, meandering current (2-3 knots, according to the park rangers) makes for an easy paddle in either direction, and because it flows through a state park, there is no development along the riverbank, save for one tattered old cabin.

Silver River State Park

Beautiful afternoon for kayaking up Silver River.

There’s a kayak launch inside the state park ($6 per car to enter), and from there, you can explore the 5 ½ mile spring run, before the river eventually joins the Ocklawaha.

It’s a bit of a hike from the parking lot to the river, and motorized vehicles aren’t allowed on the trail.  If you’re traveling alone, with several kayaks or with a heavy canoe, you’ll need a manual trailer to get your gear down to the water.  It’s a long ½ mile with a kayak trailer in tow.  Complicating matters further, the trail to the river is mostly soft sand, and while I didn’t have the pleasure of dragging a trailer through it, I’m guessing it’s a less-than-pleasurable experience, particularly in mid summer.

In light of all that, the park offers canoe rentals for $7 an hour on a first-come-first-served basis.  They’re locked up down by the water, so a key and a paddle is all you’ll have to lug down the river trail.

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