Hundreds of people gathered Saturday to protect Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
The Paynes Prairie Coalition organized a rally at First Magnitude Brewing Company, followed by a 1-mile march that started at the brewery and ended at the corner of Main Street and University Avenue.
At the rally, local folk band Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters played “This Land is Your Land.” Attendees made signs displaying messages such as, “protect our parks,” and, “Scott free zone,” nearby.
The coalition is worried that bills in the Florida Legislature could open the park to logging, hunting and cattle grazing, which could potentially upset the scenic landscape.
Former chief naturalist Jim Stevenson and current historian Leslie Poole condemned what they said are actions taken by the state government to harm Paynes Prairie.
Stevenson specifically mentioned Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Environmental Protection.
“We first learned about DEP’s plans to dismantle the park in April of 2015,” Stevenson said.
The coalition — which includes members from the Alachua Audubon Society, Suwannee-St. Johns Group Sierra Club and Florida Native Plant Society — chanted that parks belong to the people.
Poole, a fourth generation Floridian, said her grandfather fished at the park as a child. She now takes her kids to the prairie and hopes to share it with future generations.
“Why any state institution would slowly try to erode the beauty and value of state parks — that is beyond me,” Poole said.