I live right down the street from the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, which in my mind is Gainesville’s finest outdoor attraction. It has some stiff competition; the area is known for the alligator crashpad at the La Chua Trail, but I prefer Kanapaha for a personal feeling that it is a bit less risky in the wildlife department. I have this impression from the lovely upkeep of the place and from the fact that multiple weddings take place there and as far as I know couples are not lining up to be wed on the La Chua Trail.
Despite a fairly good investigative effort, however, I cannot find any reports of someone being attacked by an alligator on the trail, yet at Kanapaha there was an attack that made the international news.
In 2002, the Gardens’ director, Don Goodman, had half of his arm bitten off by an eleven-foot behemoth that had crawled into one of the water gardens from its normal home in nearby Lake Kanapaha. The alligator was an attraction of its own before it snatched the lower portion of Goodman’s limb. It is not true that once you’ve seen one alligator you have seen them all. Indeed, it is possible to take a ho-hum approach to the six-footers in Bivens Arm, especially if you have ever been in the Everglades, but the beasts of ten feet and over still inspire a special awe.
One day last year, Mr. B. walked to the bank of the lily pond to take a picture. This was the pond where Mr. Goodman had his arm removed by Mo-Jo, as the alligator was known. As soon as Mr. B. neared the water, there was a tremendous splash. Since I had stayed safely on the sidewalk, I was not able to see what had caused the splash, although I did helpfully call out “Do you think that alligator sign is there for a reason?”
Last week, we went back to Kanapaha to renew our season pass. After photographing the koi, we walked down to the bank of the pond to see if it were easier to photograph the fish from that vantage point. It wasn’t. The fish avoided the edge of the water or cruised beneath it. They weren’t visible and it wasn’t possible to take pictures. Suddenly, there was a mighty splash. Again! And with Mr. B. three feet away.
I realized then that I had been skittish about carp. A large specimen was responsible for the disturbance and probably was the former time also. This is not to say that there are not alligators in the lily ponds, although this time around I noticed an absence of warning signs. Feeling emboldened, I walked around the rest of the park, trampling dead leaves and later sitting next to a plant in which yellowjackets showed a vehement interest.
In all, a good day and a big step forward towards my Nature Girl merit badge.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens: *****
If you visit: “Botanical” doesn’t mean “floral.” Flowers are a part of the Gardens three months out of the year, but Kanapaha is by no means a flowering garden. Kanapaha showcases palms, bamboo, vines, and herbs more so than it does flowers; it is verdant and its various shimmering greens include cool celadons and tea greens through bright shamrocks and dark, brownish rifle greens. It’s an oasis of calm. Just avoid wedding days.