What is the Alachua Savanna?


At about the time of our nation's founding in the 1770s, naturalist William Bartram visited Florida and recorded his observations in "The Travels of William Bartram." In all of his travels, one of the most impressive experiences he came across was the "Great Alachua Savanna," which is generally in the area now known as Paynes Prairie, just south of Gainesville.

At the time of his arrival, Bartram reached Cuscowilla, the capital of the Alachuas (now known as the town of Micanopy). Here, he smoked the peace pipe with Chief Cowkeeper, and was led to the Savanna.

Riding horseback through forests, Bartram suddenly came upon the savanna, creating what he called "the most sudden transition from darkness to light that can possibly be exhibited in a natural landscape." The scene featured deer, wolves, turkeys, sandhill cranes, cattle, orange groves, magnolia, and palms. Bartram was moved to exclaim "how the mind is agitated and bewildered, at being thus, as it were, placed on the borders of a new world. On the first view of such an amazing display of the wisdom and power of the supreme author of nature, the mind for a moment seems suspended, and impressed with awe."

Upon visiting Alachua Sink, Bartram was amazed by the number and size of the alligators, "so abundant that, if permitted by them, I could walk over any part of the basin and the river upon their heads." (Source for the above: Moon Magazine, 4/94)

The Alachua Savanna may, in fact, be the ideal form of environment for humans. Three biologists at the University of Wisconsin, H.H. Iltis, P. Andrews, and O.L. Loucks felt that human genes have been shaped by evolution to require "natural" surroundings for optimum mental health: "Unique as we may think we are, we are nevertheless as likely to be genetically programmed to a natural habitat of clean air and a varied green landscape as any other mammal. To be relaxed and feel healthy usually means simply allowing our bodies to react in the way for which 100 million years of evolution has equipped us. Physically and genetically, we appear best adapted to a tropical savanna, but as a cultural animal we utilize learned adaptations to cities and towns...".

Where else in the U.S. but the Alachua Savanna can you find "a natural habitat of clean air and a varied green landscape" in "a tropical savanna"? To "be relaxed and feel healthy" during your vacation, you owe it to yourself and your genes to visit north central Florida someday...

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