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Alligator Lake Public Recreation Area in Lake City, Fla. offers eight miles of quiet hiking and bike trails, fishing, canoeing, covered picnic areas and a playground. Wading birds and flowering lily pads enhance the tranquil surroundings. The lake itself is 80 acres in size and contains underground tunnels that carry water 16 miles to the popular Ichetucknee Springs tubing site.

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Jill Zima Borski

Columbia County purchased the Alligator Lake Recreation Area through the Florida Preservation 2000 grant program in 1997. Featuring approximately 1,000 acres of greenspace and wetlands, the park has a sand volleyball court, horseshoe pit and ADA restrooms. A screened “Ponderosa Pavilion” by the lake can be reserved by contacting a park official at 386-719-7545.

Alligator Lake's name derives from a Seminole Indian chief named Alligator who ruled over “Alpata Telophka” or Alligator Town. According to the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials, Alligator instigated the Dade Massacre which started the Seminole War of 1835. When the hostilities ceased, the area became a white settlement and the name was change to Lake City prior to the Civil War which began in 1861.

On a quiet Sunday morning, a woman training for a marathon began her more-than-one-hour run, while I hopped aboard a hybrid bike and explored the James H. Montgomery Trail, followed by Possom Trot, Eagle Trail, Willow Pond, Capybara and finally Bobcat Trail back to where I started at the main parking lot.

I seemed to have the park to myself. This allowed me to encounter a small turtle on Montgomery and an armadillo on Capybara. Numerous birds and the Florida Flame Vine flowering tree that dropped orange-red flowers made me stop several times for photographs. (See my slide show!)

A boardwalk ended with a scenic overlook, and plans call for its extension to the Rogers Dike area and the two mile Egret Loop Trail. Once on Willow Pond Trail, I searched for which way to go. It dead ends into a fenced-off road (Old Country Club Road); going left was bad; going right was worse, but according to the park map, I was supposed to be headed to the right to a bridge that I could see but could not get to without falling into a foot of water, which I did when my bike decided the trudging was not ride-able. It wasn’t just me. A wonderful resource with hiking specifics, www.floridahikes.com/alligatorlake, describes Willow Pond Trail and says, “The trail ends abruptly, so you need to turn back.” That’s what I did, wet feet and all. And that’s when I spied an armadillo rooting in the grass about six feet from me on the Capybara Trail.

The park’s hours are Tuesday - Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. when daylight savings time rolls around. Entry is free. On Mondays, it is closed. For more info, visit http://www.columbiacountyfla.com/ParksandRecreation.asp or for more to do in the area, visit www.springsrus.com