(Review added 09/01/13, last update 12/15.)
Prairie Creek is a short paddle that belies the fact that it is right in Gainesville. It is part of the new Potano State Paddling Trail which includes the circumnavigation of Newnans Lake. Water level is critical in determining whether to paddle the Creek. Too low and you will be climbing and crawling over downed trees and limbs. Too high and you won’t be able to pass under the low Gainesville-Hawthorne bicycle path bridge just south of State Rd 20. Like Juniper Creek, this is an adventure, not a “paddle in the park” trip. Mind the water levels and have fun.
The creek runs from Newnans Lake and historically drained into Paynes Prairie providing the basin with needed water. In the 1930s a dam was constructed on Newnan’s Lake to control flooding and in the 1940s Camp’s Canal was built which diverted most of the water into Orange Lake via the River Styx. By the 1980s the ecological damage of this diversion, especially to Paynes Prairie, was understood and the dam was removed. However, most the water still flows down the canal due to many factors including flooding of private property in the area and fear of damage to the bass fishing in Orange Lake. You will pass the metal water control structure at the point where the river stops its natural twists and you enter the ruler-straight canal, a little over 1 mile from the end.
You may notice that the water in Newnans Lake and Prairie Creek is full of algal bloom and is a greenish color usually associated with agricultural or industrial runoff. However, in this case it is due to the Hawthorn Formation – a clay layer sitting on top of the bedrock which is a gray/green color and full of natural phosphates. Sitting close to the surface in Alachua County, the lakes and streams here cut through the formation and pick up these natural phosphates which support a wide diversity of aquatic plants which in turn support vast numbers of fish and wildlife.
The stretch between SR 20 to CR 234 gives the impression of wilderness even though the surrounding area (the vast majority of which is now protected) has been heavily impacted by over 12,000 years of human habitation. Once past the Gainesville-Hawthorne bridge the only sign of this impact you are likely to see from the water is a transmission line you will parallel for a short distance. Most of the time you will be winding through beautiful hardwood forest and then cypress trees. You will usually see a wide variety of water birds, owls, song birds, and small gators.
If the water is not too high you can put in at Kate’s Fish Camp located right on State Rd 20 and Prairie Creek. For a fee Kate’s may arrange a shuttle for you. However, Newnan’s Lake has much to offer in the way of wildlife and plants and we like to put in at Earl P. Powers Park (a free city park) just to the west on SR 20 and skirt around the southwest end of the lake for about a mile. A nice double boat ramp, plenty of parking, restrooms and picnic tables enhance the put-in. The take out is where the Camps Canal crosses under CR 234 to the southeast. There’s room for 2-3 cars on each side of the road there without blocking the gate.
(Remember, “river left” is the left side of the river headed downstream.)
0.0 Earl P. Powers County Park
0.8 Leave Newnans Lake and enter Prairie Creek
0.9 Pass Kate’s Fish Camp, pass under SR 20 & the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail
1.3 Join transmission line
1.4 Leave transmission line
4.0 Pass water control structure, river right, and join Camps Canal
5.0 Small stream, river left
5.2 Take out before CR 234
Click HERE to download Prairie Creek Fact Sheet with mileage chart and directions to launch sites.
Click HERE to download Prairie Creek gpx file for your GPS unit.
Double-click to zoom in or use mouse scroll to zoom in and out. Drag to change location. Click on icons or river route for more info.