After long days stuck studying for Summer classes, some students opt to visit nature parks to hike, picnic, take pictures and learn more about Gainesville’s diverse plants and wildlife. These three parks are staples for students looking for an escape.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
A lake decorated with water pads, a Buddha statue and 24 gardens with dozens of exotic animals and plants sit tucked away 4.5 miles from campus.
Located at 4700 SW 58th Drive, a little more than two miles south of Butler Plaza, Kanapaha Botanical Garden boasts a one-and-a-half--mile walkway lined with expansive visual scenery.
It runs through the specialty gardens, which are broken into taxological and ecological themes. The hummingbird garden holds beds of red tubular flowers meant to attract the titular bird.
“A botanical garden is like a zoo for plants,” Alexis Caffrey, the garden’s director, said.
Kanapaha has a very healthy bird population, she said, and many binocular-baring bird watchers gravitate toward the Silk Oak tree, which attracts colorful birds.
Kanapaha’s team sows plants from around the world, some of which are endangered, and the gardens demand much more maintenance than other parks with natural settings, Caffrey said.
The gardens, with a name originating from the Timucua words for “palmetto leaves” and “house,” are run by The North Florida Botanical Society, a private non-profit organization.
A picnic area allows visitors to bask on a blanket with their own food and drinks from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park
Sweetwater Wetlands Park’s man-made, alligator-head-shaped habitat is uniquely designed for pedestrians to stroll, run or photograph its wildlife.
The park, designed to improve water quality by filtering out pollution and nutrients, includes a three-and-a-half--mile-long nature trail and viewing decks that allow people to spot 250 unique species, including bison, horses and alligators.
Visitors can follow a ranger around the wetlands — located at 325 SW Williston Road, three miles west of campus — for night hikes, plant walks and bird walks on a monthly basis September to May. The events work in conjunction with the Alachua Audubon Society, a non-profit organization that promotes the appreciation of birds and other wildlife.
“[People enjoy] photography and just like access to viewing wildlife because the park is so open, it's really easy to see the wildlife,” said Darby Guyn, a 26-year-old park ranger at Sweetwater Wetlands.
Devil’s Millhopper State Park
A sinkhole sits at the bottom of Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park’s half-mile nature trail. The rainforest opens to the 120-foot-deep basin with 132 steps that lead directly into the water.
The park — located at 4732 Millhopper Road, five miles north of campus — is a “remarkable geological wonderland,” wrote Erin McDade, deputy press secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“One of the most amazing things you’ll experience is the stark temperature change as you approach the sinkhole,” McDade wrote.
The park has a variety of wildlife viewing.
Visitors can see reptiles, amphibians and birds during guided walks with rangers Saturdays at 10 a.m..
Anushka Dakshit is a fourth-year journalism and women’s studies major and the general reporter on the University desk of The Alligator. She started out as an arts and culture reporter at The Avenue and hopes to pursue arts and culture reporting and print magazine journalism in her career. Along with The Alligator, she is one of the Print Editorial Directors of Rowdy Magazine. In her free time, she likes to listen to old Bollywood music, read and obsess over other writers’ processes whenever she has no idea what she’s doing (which is often).