Nearby Paynes Prairie has a long history -- at different times, it has been grazing land for cattle, the residence of Seminole tribes, and a lake that steamboats crossed. Now, part of this land has been transformed into the Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Check out the Paynes Prairie Historic Sites map to learn more about this region's history.
La Chua and King Payne
In the late 1600s, Paynes Prairie was the home of La Chua, the largest cattle ranch in Spanish Florida. Two hundred years later, Seminole Indians occupied the area, and the prairie was named after Chief King Payne.
The Seminoles were driven out after being defeated in the Second Seminole War.
The prairie floods
In the late 1800s, heavy rain caused the prairie to flood. The prairie became known as Alachua Lake, and steam-powered boats traveled across it to transport lumber, goods and passengers. The lake drained in the 1890s and once again became a marsh.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park created
In 2009, the Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project began as a way to reduce pollution to Alachua Sink by restoring the prairie's natural sheetflow and creating a wetland habitat. The final goal was to create an environmentally friendly park, filled with plants and animals, that allows people to connect with and learn about nature. Gainesville Regional Utilities and the City of Gainesville Department of Public Works completed the wetlands in 2015.
This video gives a in-depth description of the project.
Natural sheetflow disrupted
Ranchers in the 1930s created a ditch to drain part of Paynes Prairie to expand grazing areas. The ditch connected Sweetwater Branch directly to Alachua Sink, a small lake in the prairie that is connected to the Floridan Aquifer. This caused dehydration of more than 1,300 acres of prairie wetlands.
In the following decades, the Alachua Sink was affected by urban runoff and wastewater. It became filled with an excess of nitrogen and was put on a list of impaired bodies of water.