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Mental Health

Ways to Safely Enjoy the Spring Weather in Gainesville

Okay, I know that Florida’s winters aren’t that terrible, including only a few days of extreme cold and a handful of chances to wear sweaters. However, I’m extremely excited for springtime to begin. Spring is my absolute favorite season of the year because of the nice breezy weather, spring flowers and ability to go outside without sweating too much in the Florida heat.

I think we all need to find activities that help us destress, get outside and relax in these unconventional times. I know a lot of things have been shifted throughout this past year, and it’s been hard for a lot of us.

Being inside more often, not being on campus and not being around people have affected my anxiety and stress levels. I’m sure that many other college students and young adults feel the same way, too. I know we’ve always heard that “going outside will make you feel better,” but it’s true. According to an article from UNC Health Talk, walking has proven effective in reducing anxiety and depression. Even better, walking in nature can calm your mind and reduce blood pressure and stress levels. This is because different parts of our brain are activated when we are in nature.

The good news is we can still enjoy the great weather in Gainesville despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Our community has been focusing on many different safety protocols to assure that we can enjoy the outdoors and still stay safe. Here are a few local places to go to help you enjoy nature and reduce stress at the same time.

O’Leno State Park

O’Leno State Park, located in High Springs, is about a 35-minute drive from the University of Florida. If you’re looking to get away from campus but not go too far, O’Leno’s tranquil trails are perfect for you. O’Leno State Park is located along the banks of the Santa Fe River, allowing for great views and wildlife sightseeing. It costs $5 per vehicle to enter the park, and they are open from 8 a.m. to sundown every day of the year. This park is one of my favorites because of the suspension bridge that extends over the river. This is a great spot for pictures and enjoying the scenery. Regarding safety protocols, facial coverings or masks are required inside buildings for staff and visitor safety. While on the trails, visitors are required to distance themselves from other groups.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is another local favorite and a great place to enjoy the sunshine while enjoying views of wildlife. Paynes Prairie is home to wild-roaming bison and horses, nearly 300 species of birds, alligators, deer and more. During my last visit to Paynes Prairie, my friend and I saw a few baby alligators with their mom, as well as a flock of blue heron. The park includes eight trails, which are perfect for walking, running and cycling. Admission to the park is $6 per vehicle. Currently, face masks are required when in buildings on the site. Also, social distancing is strongly encouraged to keep you and other visiting parties safe. Paynes Prairie is a great place to go if you enjoy seeing wildlife and longer trails.

Cedar Lake Woods and Gardens

When I say Cedar Lakes Woods and Garden is stunning, I mean it. This garden provides amazing views of botanical scenery, as well as smooth walking trails. The property originated as a 110-year-old abandoned limestone quarry and has been transformed into a beautiful botanical garden. The quarry includes multiple gazebos, concrete walking trails, bridges, waterfalls and more. The garden is located in Willison, which is about a 30-minute drive from campus. They are open every day of the week except Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Currently, they are requiring the use of masks on the entire premises of the garden and are encouraging social distancing. Groups larger than 10 are not currently allowed at Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens, also. Adult admission is $12, and they encourage you to bring a camera because there is a myriad of amazing spots with beautiful backgrounds for photos.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is located off of Southwest Archer Road. It is a 68-acre facility home to 24 major collections of different flora. Some special? sights include the largest public display of bamboo and the largest herb garden in the Southeast. There are no available trails for running or cycling, but Kanapaha offers a 1.5-mile paved walkway for strolls. Dogs are allowed on the premises but must be kept on leashes. The admission price is $10 for adults, and masks are mandated when inside buildings and while passing other guests on the walkways. When visiting with a group, one individual is required to purchase tickets in a single payment.

Lake Wauberg

Lake Wauberg is an outdoor park available for free to UF students and faculty. The North Shore location of Lake Wauberg is currently open, with a maximum capacity of 200 people. There is a live count available on their website, so you can see how busy the park is in real-time. The park is currently requiring face masks to be worn when in buildings and when you are within 6 feet of another group. Lake Wauberg offers boating and equipment rentals that are disinfected between use. Also, the North Shore includes a beach area, an observation deck, a boat ramp, pavilions, picnic tables and restrooms. The website suggests bringing food; water; a towel, blanket, hammock or chair; sporting equipment and a good book or homework.


Also, if you aren’t in the mood to go for a walk or travel too far from home, here are some ideas for things you can do from your apartment’s balcony, on-campus or from the comfort of a local business. But, don’t forget your mask!

  • Go on a socially distanced picnic with friends at Depot Park.
  • Go for a walk around campus.
  • Lay in a hammock in the Plaza of the Americas.
  • If you don’t have a hammock, just sit outside at your favorite spot on campus.
  • Sit outside at a local coffee shop and study.

Overall, the possibilities are endless when it comes to enjoying the spring weather in Gainesville while simultaneously staying safe. Students living on campus are lucky when it comes to being surrounded by resources and things to do. We live in a place where nature and culture meet, and we have many great opportunities to go outside and enjoy them all. It is currently extremely important to follow safety guidelines, wear a mask and protect ourselves and others. However, you don’t have to completely miss out on opportunities to step outside your bedroom. Stay safe, take care of yourself and go outside!

Madison Hodge is a junior at the University of Florida where she majors in Advertising. She has a small business on Etsy named Stardust Design, where she sells custom digital illustrations, stickers, apparel, and more. In her free time Madison loves to spend time with her boyfriend, go to the beach, drink lemonade, and draw.