Our last two trip to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park we found the La Chua Trail at the north end of the park closed beyond the boardwalk due to flooding. We heard it opened so headed there this trip.
We walked the boardwalk and saw that area dried up quite a bit since our last visit. We continued to the end of the boardwalk and saw groups of people photographing ahead on the trail. The reason became immediately apparent. The cold night, which dipped into the 40s (F), gave way to a sunny and quickly warming morning. Near a small body of water, the alligators all swam up and beached themselves to enjoy the sun and warm their cold blooded systems.
The signs leading to the trail and just before that area warned of wildlife, and suggested keeping at least 20 feet from alligators, further from the bison and wild horses. The alligators rested in a large group across the small pond, but as we walked closer we realized that some of them also rested on the near side of the pond, right next to the trail. We passed as far away from them as we could, as did the other hikers.
We continued on when suddenly we heard splashing behind us. We looked and several of the large alligators plopped back in the water, sufficiently warmed and quite active. The other hikers continued, Karl and I decided to turn around at that point before they became even more active. Our prior experience on this trail prompted that decision.
Many years ago we spent nearly half an hour at a standstill on that trail. A large alligator plopped itself across the middle of the trail, in an area where passing safely on either side was impossible due to water. Several of us stood on one side waiting to get back, while many others stood on the other side, hoping to go forward. Finally the alligator decided to move and walked forward, sliding into the water.
We live in Florida and spend most of our time in natural areas. We see alligators all the time but always stay conscious of the fact that they are wild and can be dangerous. In general, they will move away from you if they can, so always give them an out and don’t stand between them and the water. An alligator becomes dangerous when humans feed it and they associate humans with food. They also become much more assertive during mating season, which starts in April.