Photo adventures with Sheri – Include a visit to La Chua Trail on your next Gainesville day-trip

The Christmas shopping season is quickly drawing nigh, and many of us will shop locally within the Tri-County and along the Nature Coast. Excellent idea! But as we plan our shopping lists to satisfy the wants and needs (and more wants) of our precious family and friends, many of us will find ourselves making a day-trip into Gainesville to round out your our holiday shopping. But don’t let shopping be the sole focus of your day. Treat yourself to a new and wonderful outdoor experience to help stay sane amid the shopping frenzy. Take a friend and enjoy the La Chua Trail. What? Where, you ask?

The La Chua Trail is part of the 21,000-acre Paynes Prairie State Preserve located in southeast Gainesville. The trail is easy to find. From Main Street go east on University Avenue, cross Waldo Road, and turn right onto SE 15th Street. Go two and a half miles, and when the road begins to make a 90-degree turn to the left, continue straight ahead across the three-way intersection, through the wooden gate, and down the road to the parking area. Located at the north end of the prairie, the La Chua Trail affords many excellent locations for wildlife watching, with an elevated boardwalk and observation tower.

sheris-ad-revisedOur very own Sheri McLeroy was able to bring her adventures along the La Chua Trail to us via her outstanding photos. As you can see, this is the place to observe a host of wonderful birds and other wildlife. More than 270 species of birds have been found at Paynes Prairie at one time or another, 85 of which nest in the preserve.

The trail traverses an immense patchwork of fields and marshes. The grass and brush along the first stretch can be a very good place to spot sparrows in winter. A short side trail here leads to a pond, Alachua Sink, where you can see waders and, during periods of low water, shorebirds. The trail continues into wetter habitats, with a drainage canal on one side and marshes on the other, until it reaches the shallow, weedy open water of Alachua Lake, the center of the Paynes Prairie basin.

There is a minimal fee to enjoy the trail paid on the honor system and the total trail round-trip covers about three miles. It would probably take an average walker about an hour at a steady pace to travel this magical path. But why not allow yourself two hours, bring along water and a snack, and top off your day of shopping by enjoying serene, natural views and the sights and sounds of birds and wildlife. You won’t find that at the mall!

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