Prairie Lake has certainly changed, but it is still beautiful. Not familiar with Prairie Lake? It is the large lake just east of Tallahassee bordering Tom Brown Park, the Piney Z neighborhood and Alford Greenway. A sinkhole on the northwestern end once drained it periodically and fire would often race across the dry lake bottom. The subsequent open and grassy appearance prompted early settlers to name it Prairie Lake.
Today, Prairie Lake is called Lake Lafayette and it bears little resemblance to a prairie environment. The lake was divided by earthen dams in the 1940s to enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. This changed the lake’s hydrology, preventing the periodic sinkhole drainage, and it encouraged the growth of cypress trees. So, in the past 70 years, Lake Lafayette has transformed from a wet prairie type environment that would often burn in the dry season to a water body that has a longer wet season and one that produces thick mats of floating water weeds known as tussocks. Some wildlife species have adapted and visitors are often thrilled to see bald eagles and osprey; both species nest along the lake. Endangered wood storks have also made a home in part of the cypress forest.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the City of Tallahassee has established an impressive 7.8 mile round-trip paddling trail through the lake system, one that is marked by signs. You can begin at Lafayette Heritage Park at Piney Z or at the ramp in Chaires on the eastern end of Lower Lake Lafayette and take shorter loops if you wish. During periods of low rainfall, part of the trail is impassible, but I recently joined a paddling group that found good water and clear trails. Paddling through the cypress maze of Lower Lake Lafayette is an enchanting experience, and one marvels at how close this wild place is to Tallahassee. Plus, before or after your paddling excursion, you can walk or bike ride the numerous land trails in the area.
To learn more about the Lafayette Passage Paddling Trail, and to download a map and guide, log onto https://www.talgov.com/parks/parks-parks-lafayette.aspx.