Florida (March 1986-Present)
I am hired by the City
of Gainesville directly out of graduate school to work as a comprehensive
planner in the Department of Community Development in March 1986 (in 2000, the
city population was 95,000). It turns out to be a fortunate decision, as Gainesville
has served well as a convenient staging area for a number of adventures I enjoy
on a regular basis. My favorite spots in the Gainesville area, in no particular
River. A series of springs discharges 233 million gallons of water
every day, and creates Ichetucknee
River. Most users of the river use the river by floating down it
on an inner tube. It is the most gorgeous, sparkling river in Florida.
Shuttle for tubers runs Memorial Day through Labor Day. Midpoint float
takes 1.5 hrs. Full length takes 3.5 hrs. Can also kayak or canoe or
snorkel the river.
North Central Florida contains one of the most
astounding concentration of springs in the nation, if not the world, which
explains why the National Geographic featured the springs of the area in early
1999. About 45 minutes from Gainesville.
of Florida. In 1853, the private Kingsbury Academy in Ocala was
taken over by the state-funded East Florida Seminary. The Seminary was
moved to Gainesville following the Civil War. In 1905, the institution was
renamed as the University of Florida. In 2001, with about 46,000 students,
the University is today the fourth largest university in the nation. There
are approximately 4,000 full-time faculty in 20 colleges and schools. More
than 100 undergraduate and more than 200 graduate programs are offered.
Professional degrees are awarded in dentistry, law, medicine, pharmacy and
veterinary medicine. The university is home to the world's largest citrus
research center and has cooperated with Spain to build the world's largest
telescope. The campus contains a historic northeast quadrant (which boasts
several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places-see photo
upper right), Lake Alice (home to several alligators) and Medicinal
Gardens, Century Tower (a 49-bell carillon which rings on the daytime
quarter hour), a cutting edge Bat House (where at dusk each day, thousands
of bats emerge for their nightly feeding), the Museum of Natural History,
the Harn Museum, the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the
University Art Gallery, historic buildings, and major intercollegiate
sports. The football season is from August through November.
Basketball is December through February. Baseball is February through May.
It is best to rollerblade or bicycle to see the campus.
Botanical Gardens. A 62-acre woodland and meadow park is the
home of butterflies, herbs, humming birds, and sunken gardens. The state's
largest herb garden and collection of bamboo is also here, as is a pretty
water lily pond. Very attractive, romantic walk. The Gardens are best seen
in the spring or summer. The gardens border the 250-acre Lake Kanapaha.
The word "Kanapaha" comes from tow Timuqua Indian words that
mean "palmetto leaves" and "house." Collectively they
refer to thatched dwellings that were the homes of the original human
inhabitants of the forests bordering the lake.
Millhopper and San Felasco
Millhopper is a huge sinkhole containing a dozen small waterfalls
that can be enjoyed as you descend 232 steps to the bottom of a 120-foot
deep, 500-foot wide sinkhole. It was formed when an underground cavern
roof collapsed, creating a bowl-shaped cavity. The Millhopper is a
National Natural Landmark that has been visited since the 1880s. It
contains plant species rarely found in Florida. Nearly every major forest
type native to north Florida is found in the 6,500-acre San Felasco
Hammock. This preserve features limestone outcrops, sinkholes, champion
trees, and numerous ponds, creeks, and marshes. Many rare plants thrive at
the preserve. Wildlife includes bobcat, birds, gray fox, white-tailed
deer,and wild turkey.
Fitness Center. Work-out to stay in shape while you visit
Gainesville. Includes spa, sauna. Not crowded.
River. I have canoed, kayaked, and mountain biked on or near
this historic river.
Quite impressive. A large river with coffee-colored water. This fabled
river, made famous in the song by Stephen Foster, flows more than 200
miles across Florida from its origin in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia to
its destination in the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it is fed by more
than 22 major springs-many of which offer diving, snorkeling, picnic, and
swimming opportunities. Along the way are Big Shoals and Little Shoals,
the only river rapids in Florida. The river flows through pristine river
swamp with tall cypress, oaks, pines, and palmettos. Along bends in the
river, you often find white sand beaches, many of which make excellent
camp sites, which I have previously camped on. Wildlife includes deer,
otter, alligator, hawks, great blue heron, osprey, and beaver. Limestone
outcrops line the banks. Ancient ocean fossils in the limestone are
evidence of a time when the shoreline extended further inland and the sea
covered much of present-day Florida.
Parts of the Florida trail and a network of
off-road bicycling trails parallel the river. The off-road bicycling trails,
all of which I have bicycled, include 11 separate riding areas featuring a
variety of forest ecosystems, palmetto thickets, pine forests, oak hammocks,
and cypress swamps. Find old beaver dams, hidden springs, and glimpses of the
blackwater Suwannee River along mountain bicycle trails that are second only to
the Santos trails in all of Florida.
The Suwannee River is about a 1-hour drive from
- Downtown Gainesville. Starting in the
1990s, downtown Gainesville has seen a resurgence. A very walkable place.
Nice restaurants. Impressive cultural events. Pleasant collection of
bars-including a brewpub that makes its own microbeer. Enjoyable library.
Remarkable 5-story Union Street Station building (photo at right) built in
the late 1990s and containing offices, residences, and retail.
Theatre. Alternative movies. High quality plays. It is the only
professional theatre in North Central Florida-housed in an extremely
impressive, classical building. Originally the downtown post office for
Gainesville (see photo below right).
Museum. Center for cultural and natural history of the area.
Features over 18,000 Florida postcards, 1,200 stereo-view cards, and a
variety of prints, maps, and items of historical significance. The
restored Matheson House (built in 1857) is next door, as is a native plant
Nature Center. Large, 278-acre city-owned nature park. Old,
historic "cracker" home and working "Living History"
farm displays the lifestyle of a farmer in North Central Florida 100 years
ago. There are barnyard animals, an 1840 cabin, a turn-of-the-century
kitchen, an heirloom garden, and a barn. The park contains boardwalk and
trails through a sandhill, cypress, and longleaf pine forests. More than
225 wildflower species and 130 bird species, mammals, and reptiles are
found at the park.
- Cumberland Island. Cumberland Island
is just off the Jacksonville coastline. Pleasant for boating, fishing,
hiking, camping, beach-combing. About 2 hours from Gainesville. 45-minute
ferry ride to the island.
Key. Pleasant historic town. Nice for canoeing, kayaking, sea
fishing. I joined my parents in chartering a fishing boat for shallow ocean
fishing there, and caught ice chests full of delicious sea bass in a day
of fishing. Also available is beach walking. About 1.5 hours from
River manatee snorkeling. Allows you to swim with and pet these large
"sea cows". Very pleasant. Very easy-even by young
children. Requires rental of snorkel gear and wetsuit. Very close to Cedar
Key on the west coast of Florida.
Very pleasant, small, walkable historic town filled with antique shops. Micanopy is
Florida's second oldest town, and is about 15 minutes south of Gainesville
Lake. A large, 6,000-acre lake on eastern border of
Gainesville. Has nearly dried up due to the 4-year drought here as of
January 2002. When at normal levels, a great lake to canoe or kayak or
bike alongside. Lots of gators, wading birds, osprey, eagles.
Hammock. At 250 acres, Flamingo Hammock is a semi-commune with
8 homesteads. A very nice forest with trails, a creek, a treehouse, and a
sinkhole. Contains the 10 acres I formerly owned, and which I spent time
reforesting for 10-12 years.
Creek. Nice creek
at the SE corner of Gainesville that I have canoed a number of times.
Nice, short canoe or kayak trip through a creek forest. The creek connects
Newnans Lake, Paynes Prairie, and Orange Lake. This two- to three-hour
trip twists and turns through a floodplain forest. Along the way is an
area of open pines on the eastern edge of Paynes Prairie. A dike
constructed in the 1940s by the Camp family to block the creek from
flooding into the Prairie now re-routes the creek through an area of
Springs and Paradise Springs.
Ginnie contains crystal clear water-Jacques Cousteau has said that it is
the clearest water he has ever seen. I have dove and snorkeled these
springs several times. It is 72 degrees year round. Year round snorkeling,
scuba diving. Can be reached by car, kayak, or canoe. Ginnie is about 40
minutes north of Gainesville. Paradise Springs
is about 2.5 hours south of Gainesville, and features a 110-foot
"chimney" that I have descended into as a scuba diver.
Springs. A 197-acre county-owned spring near Ginnie Springs
along the banks of the Santa Fe River.
Arm Nature Park. A 57-acre city-owned park with 1,200 feet of
boardwalks, and a mile of nice hiking trail through a forest.
- Payne's Prairie. I have canoed, hiked,
watched birds, and picnicked on this 21,000 acre wildlife sanctuary- home
to 800 species of plants and 350 species of animals (photo at right). I
have hiked La Chua Trail to the Sink, the Wacahoota Trail, bicycled Cone's
Dike Trail and Chacala Trail (which includes Chacala Pond and miles of
wooded trails). Features a nice visitor's center. With ponds and three lakes,
Paynes Prairie is a wintering area for many migratory birds such as the
sandhill crane, and home to hundreds of Florida alligators, as well as
wild horses, hawks, otters, deer, gopher tortoises, bald eagles, and a
herd of American Bison. This nationally prominent preserve is covered by
marsh and wet prairie vegetation, with many acres of open water. There are
numerous hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding trails in the preserve,
which I have used a number of times. During the 1600s, the largest cattle
ranch in Spanish Florida operated here. Contains the most dense
concentration of eagles south of Alaska. Huge gator population that you
can easily see up close when walking La Chua trail, which leads you to a
popular destination for alligators hanging out in the sun-Alachua Sink.
Along the La Chua
trail, gorgeous views emerge as you descend into the Prairie
basin. Once on the basin floor, I've nearly always found that I have an
up-close and personal view of hundreds of Florida alligators along a trail
lined with marsh vegetation and numerous birds.
Overlooks in multiple locations. Paynes Prairie
was historically called the Alachua
Savannah because in 1774, well-known artist and naturalist
William Bartram wrote a detailed description of the area in which he called it
the "great Alachua Savannah." Within this Natural Landmark, 20
distinct biological communities are found, including wet prairie, pine
flatwoods, hammocks, swamp, and ponds. Most of the life Bartram described still
flourishes here today.
Paynes Prairie South contains other attractions,
besides the Visitor Center:
Cone's Dike Bison Trail Ride
I have bicycled this six-mile trail, which begins
at the Visitor Center and runs through mixed forest and prairie habitat. This
trail occasionally offers encounters with the Paynes Prairie bison herd.
Chacala Trail Bicycle Ride
Features a series of loops up to eight miles in
length. When I bicycled it, the trail passed through pine flatwoods, mixed
forest, scrub, sandhill, and baygall communities.
Rail-Trail. A16-mile paved bicycle trail
running from Gainesville to small town of Hawthorne (see photo at right).
Can be rollerbladed. Trailhead is at the historic Boulware Springs. The
Boulware Springs park features a restored water works building that was
Gainesville's first source of water several decades ago. The trail weaves
its way through the north rim of Paynes Prairie through a canopy of huge
oak trees, xeric scrub, horse pasture, and prairie. Along this portion of
the trail, I have enjoyed overlooks and spur hiking trails into the
Prairie basin. At the mid-point, a wooden bridge crosses Prairie Creek
just south of the 6,000-acre Newnans Lake. From here, the trail passes
through the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area, pine forests, and pasture.
Initially, this stretch of railroad was planned to be part of a network
connecting New Orleans and New York. During the 1850s, the railroad was
constructed from Fernandina to Cedar Key, providing a land route between
the Atlantic and the Gulf, thereby eliminating the tricky passage through
the Florida Keys. The railroad was to play a major park in the founding
and history of Gainesville.
Center. Very pleasing, historic building.
It is a beautifully restored Mediterranean/Italian Renaissance structure
listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It contains 1920's
period rooms, local history exhibits, banquet rooms, performance space,
art galleries, and meeting rooms. Now contains city offices. Formerly a
hotel. The Thomas Center is surrounded by the lovely Thomas Center
Augustine. My favorite town in Florida. Extremely walkable,
on east coast of Florida-first city established in the nation. Very
nice pedestrian mall. Impressive, historic fort surrounded by moat. Gypsie
Cab Company restaurant on Anastasia Boulevard just east of bridge is
excellent. Cayman Island Seafood is also good. About 1.5 hours from
Springs. Popular place to swim and
dive. About 45 minutes west of Gainesville.
Village Center. Brand new village center built
mostly in the 1980s and 1990s. Andres Duany calls it the best example of a
new "new urbanist" village in North America. Extremely walkable.
Especially important to visit if you are interested in urban design.
of Tioga. Nationally recognized new urbanist town at west
edge of Gainesville.
Kinnan Rawlings home and Cross
Creek. Author of The Yearling. Her home is a museum of
Marjorie's home and her farm/yard. Her cracker style home and farm, where
she wrote The Yearling, is a preserved historic site. Nearby Cross Creek
is a comfortable paddle.
State Park. Attractive, state-owned forest
with hiking and biking trails. Located along the banks of the Santa Fe
River. The park contains a number of sandhills, river swamps, sinkholes,
and hardwood hammocks. O'Leno encompasses a part of the Santa Fe River.
Within the park, this portion of the river disappears and flows underground
for over three miles before re-emerging at the surface. The park was built
by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. A suspension bridge built
by the Corps still reaches across the river. Can be canoed or kayaked up
to "River Rise," where the river goes underground. About 45
minutes north of Gainesville.
Springs. Gorgeous, intimately-sized, spring-fed, crystal clear river
great for kayaking. 4-6 hour paddle. About 1.5 hours from Gainesville.
Fe River. Pretty river great for kayaking or
2-6 hour paddle. About 30 minutes from Gainesville.
Springs. Quaint, walkable, historic town with lots of antique
shops. About 40 minutes from Gainesville. Staging area for many springs
and creeks in North Central Florida.
River & Springs. Clear water paddle on a swift river.
Where Tarzan movies were filmed. Lots of monkeys and birds in forest along
river. Very large spring has glass-bottom boat rides, jungle cruise.
Silver Springs contains large water slide theme park for summer use. About
1 hour from Gainesville.
Mountain Bike Trails. Extensive system of the best mountain bike trails
in Florida. All skill levels. Through forests and sand pits. About 45
minutes from Gainesville.
Beach. Near Jacksonville. Walkable, historic
downtown. About 1.75 hours from Gainesville.
River and Devil's Den.
contains very clear, colorful water full of alligator gar and wading
birds. Pretty river. Nice for kayak and canoe paddles, and easy drift
scuba diving. Devil's
Den is the most unusual geological formation I've ever seen. A
collapsed sinkhole (a chimney provides sunlight down to the sinkhole
lake), where you can snorkel and scuba dive. Breathtaking. About 45
minutes from Gainesville.
Felasco Hammock State Preserve and
Mountain Bike Trails. Large collection of mountain bike trails
in a pristine state park forest. All skill levels. About 10 minutes from
my house. Large collection of mountain bike trails in a
pristine state park forest. All skill levels. The preserve features 10
miles of marked nature trails through 6,900 acres of forest. The preserve
contains one of the finest examples of the climax mesic hammocks remaining
Boltin Center. City-owned recreation and cultural building. I
go here for monthly old-tyme-square, circle, and contra-dances, which I've
attended each month for years.
Horsefarms of North Central
Florida. Marion County, just south of Gainesville, is horsefarm country.
The County is graced with approximately 50 miles of extremely picturesque
horsefarms along the famous "Horsefarm 100" bicycle route in Marion
County. I have bicycled on rural roads through seemingly endless, yet gorgeous,
horsefarms during a number of Horsefarm
Canopy Roads for Bicycling.
I have found countless scenic
bicycling routes through north Florida farms, forests, and small towns.
Bed & Breakfast lodging
for your stay in Gainesville
Sweetwater Branch Inn. A spectacular, classy B&B. 800.579.7760.
Magnolia Plantation B&B. Very impressive,
romantic, unusual Victorian.
Laurel Oak Inn. Recently renovated and converted into a B&B.
Herlong Mansion B&B. Enormous, impressive B&B
in the heart of the very historic, walkable town of Micanopy. 800.437.5664.
There are many Seasonal
Events in North Central Florida.
Favorite restaurants and pubs in Gainesville:
- Tim's Thai
- Leonardo's 706
- Melting Pot
- Bahn Thai
- Market Street Pub
- The Top
- Dragonfly Sushi
- Wine and Cheese Gallery
- Steve's Café Americana
- Great Outdoors Trading
Company (High Springs)
In the late '80s, I
bought a cute little 55-year old bungalow
in the historic Duckpond
neighborhood (Duckpond goose guarding the neighborhood at right).
An important, memorable attraction in the neighborhood is the collection of Duckpond Historic Homes.
The neighborhood is extremely romantic and walkable, and filled with
turn-of-the-century Victorian homes and the Thomas Center along quiet streets
lined with Spanish moss-draped oak trees.
The bungalow I bought was the first house built on N.E. 5th Street, which
was called Kentucky Avenue at the time. I spent a lot of time and money
restoring the house, including installing a solar water heater on the roof,
building a wood deck, re-doing the bathroom and kitchen, repainting the
interior and exterior, and re-wiring the electrical system. In 2001, I did an
exhaustive title search to assemble a history of ownership
on the house that reaches back to when it was built in 1935.
On Halloween in 2001, Maureen and I bought a lovely home in the
neighborhood. The "Kelley-Swords" house is rich in Gainesville
In the nearly 20 years I have lived in Gainesville, hurricane season had
never sent the city "seasons greetings." That is, until 2004, when
the Hurricane Train
paid us a visit…
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