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History of the Orange Creek Basin
The Orange Creek Basin has a rich history and is the area where famed author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote The Yearling and where she made her home at Cross Creek. In addition, the area has been known for its many waterways and diverse wildlife.
The lakes and wetlands in the Orange Creek Basin include 85 bald eagle nests around Newnans, Orange and Lochloosa lakes, more than most other areas in Florida. Thousands of migratory sandhill cranes winter in Paynes Prairie, mingling with resident Florida sandhill cranes. Wood storks and various other wading birds are commonly seen along lakes’ shorelines and in marshes, along with occasional whooping cranes, white pelicans, and roseate spoonbills. A wood stork colony breeds in a cypress swamp north of Orange Lake.
Large flocks of migratory waterfowl attract hunters to the basin’s lakes in winter. Orange Lake’s natural floating islands, a tourist attraction in the 1940s, have an unusually high diversity and number of amphibians such as sirens and newts. Alligators can often be seen in large numbers from La Chua trail in Paynes Prairie. Black bear sometimes follow the edges of streams and lakes into the Orange Creek Basin from Ocala National Forest.
The diversity of habitats is, in part, a reflection of the large natural fluctuations in water levels within the basin. Surface water in the basin generally flows from north to southeast. Newnans Lake collects flows from a variety of creeks and discharges only via Prairie Creek. A portion of Prairie Creek’s flow was reserved from other uses in order to maintain wetlands in Paynes Prairie. This reservation was accomplished through a 1994 rule of the St. Johns River Water Management District. The rule was adopted because Orange Lake fish camp owners wanted all of Newnans Lake’s water to continue to be artificially diverted south through Camps Canal toward Orange Lake. Historically, Prairie Creek flowed into Paynes Prairie. The district compromised by reserving about half of the flow from Prairie Creek for Paynes Prairie and allows the remainder of the flow to continue being diverted via Camps Canal toward Orange Lake.
Lake Lochloosa flows into Orange Lake through Cross Creek. During periods of high lake levels, water also flows through Lochloosa Slough to the east and into Orange Creek. Finally, Orange Lake flows into Orange Creek, which flows into Rodman Reservoir — an impounded segment of the lower Ocklawaha River.
Sinkholes are an important component of the Orange Creek Basin’s hydrology. On the northern edge of Paynes Prairie, water flows into Alachua Sink, recharging the aquifer. Likewise, the southern portion of Orange Lake contains a complex of sinkholes responsible for about 30 percent of all water leaving the lake.
Over many years beginning in 1989, the district acquired nearly 50,000 acres of conservation lands in the Orange Creek Basin, either as full-fee purchases or as conservation easements, with costs sometimes shared by partners. These lands are managed by the district or its partners, and most are open to the public for recreational activities. Some of the property has been used for restoration projects, such as restoration of thousands of acres of shallow marsh at the 3,500-acre Orange Creek Restoration Area. These wetlands along Orange Creek were drained and farmed in the early 1900s. In 1998, the district bought the farm with funding provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, then filled ditches and removed dikes to restore the wetlands.
Posted on 1-3-2013