Heavy rainfall post-Hurricane Irma has yielded water levels so high that the once-open fields of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park now more closely resemble lakes. The severe flooding has caused the closure of several trailheads as well as both northbound and southbound lanes of U.S. Route 441 near the state park.

Nearly a month after Hurricane Irma hit Gainesville, county workers are still working through the aftermath.

Nature preserves and boat ramps have been slow to reopen, and three parks — Poe Springs Park, Holden Pond and Earl P. Powers Park — remain closed due to flooding, said Charlie Houder, the county Parks and Conservation Lands director. La Chua Trail remains closed due to high floods, said Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park parks services specialist Amber Roux.

Officials estimate the total cost of structural damage in county parks alone will exceed $65,000, not including cleanup costs, which are still being considered, Houder said. The parks department’s about two dozen employees have all been involved in some form of post-hurricane cleanup work.

“We have people who are out there working chainsaws and using tractors and backhoes and loaders to move debris,” he said. “We all have been on hurricane duty.”

Houder said he’s unsure when the three closed county parks can reopen.

The Poe Springs boardwalk, which leads from the parking lot to the springs area, is still partially underwater and will need a full cleanup and inspection before it’s opened to the public again, Houder said.

The peak flood level of the Santa Fe River by Poe Springs after the hurricane was roughly 8 feet above sea level, according to data from the Suwannee River Water Management District.

Earl P. Powers Park will probably be closed for at least a few more weeks due to flooding from Newnans Lake, he said.

The county’s about 30 other parks and preserves, on the other hand, have all reopened, Houder said.

At some point in the future, Houder said the parks department will present the total costs from hurricane damage to the county administration, which will determine if it will absorb the costs or apply for reimbursement from FEMA.

“It’s hard to say what will happen, now,” he said. “We’ve just had to give people the best information we have.”

Paynes Prairie is nearly 100 percent reopened with the exception of La Chua Trail. Although the rest of the park opened two weeks after Hurricane Irma and has been fully functional since, the popular 3-mile round-trip bike and hiking trail remains closed due to high floods, said Roux.

“It’s probably our most popular trail among UF students,” Roux said of La Chua Trail. “All in all, the park is in good shape. In terms of the ecosystem all this water’s been a benefit.”

Staff Writer

David Hoffman is an investigative reporter for The Alligator. A rising UF history and economics senior, the 21-year-old lives and breathes for classy Parks and Recreation references and watching live performances of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on YouTube.