KISSIMMEE PRAIRIE PRESERVE STATE PARK
This preserve protects one of the largest remaining stretches of Florida dry prairie, home to an array of endangered plants and animals. While driving the five-mile-long road into the park, visitors can enjoy sweeping vistas of grasslands reminiscent of the Great Plains of the Midwest. The park offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities and is home to the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow, as well as the crested caracara and sandhill crane. Over 100 miles of dirt roads allow hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians to explore prairies, wetlands, and shady hammocks. Ranger-led prairie buggy tours take visitors to remote areas of the park. For overnight stays, the park has full-facility and primitive equestrian campgrounds. Kissimmee Prairie's remote location makes it one of Florida's premier locations for stargazing. Located 25 miles northwest of Okeechobee via U.S. 441 and County Road 724.
It is difficult to find a location in Florida that is further removed from urban and suburban light pollution than Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Campers at the Prairie have the chance to see stars, planets, and other celestial bodies in incomprehensible numbers and unforgettable brilliance. Along with Jupiter and Saturn, both clearly visible in the night sky, the International Space Station and Space Shuttle (when in orbit) can also be seen making their orbits around the Earth. The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve offers the best viewing of the night sky in the region.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities for the nature tourist. The Park offers refuge to six federally threatened and endangered species, and a further six species of special concern. Highlights of a birding trip to Kissimmee Prairie may include the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Burrowing Owl, Crested Caracara, Wood Stork and the recently sited White-Tail Kite with many other possibilities. The Park also has enough varied habitats, including wetlands, dry prairie, and hardwood hammocks, to offer the bird watching, nature tourist a full day of recreation.
The arrival of the white man was actually the very beginning of the cattle industry in Florida. When Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in 1512, he brought horses and seven Andalusian cows. But he was a conqueror, not a settler and when he left, the cattle stayed. These early cattle were described as ?rather lean and scrawny?, easily recognized by their horns which were often three feet wide from tip to tip. They eventually evolved into what we know today as the Texas Longhorn.
Franciscan friars living among the native Indians taught them many things including how to establish cattle herds. Early Spaniards attempted cattle raising, but the Seminole Indians clearly demonstrated the economic potential of cattle raising in Florida. Some groups, such as the Oconee established a very profitable cattle industry. In the 1800?s Indians replaced the friars as Florida?s most important stock raisers.
Early settlers moving into Florida found the interior plentifully stocked with wild cattle. It was necessary to hunt for the cattle in the vast, untamed wilderness. These men soon became known as cow hunters.
During a short British occupation of Florida, many British planters started cattle herds. At the end of the American Revolution, Spain regained control of Florida and liberalized their immigration policy. New types of cowmen arrived, some bringing their own herds of cattle. Soon they were challenging the Indians who ran their stock on better pastures in the prairies.
In the early 1800?s, cattle were constantly being stolen by roving bands of Indians. Cattle rustling was believed to be one cause of the Seminole Indian Wars. When Andrew Jackson led several skirmishes into Seminole territory in 1817, he netted over 1600 head of cattle, some with brands from Georgia farms.
After the end of the Seminole Wars, settlers began moving farther south into the interior, many to establish their own cattle industry. It was these territorial cowmen of the nineteenth century that made cattle an important part of Florida?s economy.
Early cattle round-ups lasted eight to ten days. The cowmen would take an ox wagon with rations consisting of biscuits, fat back for meat and sweet potatoes, which would sour after three days in the heat. The biscuits were good the first day but would harden after that and sometimes mold would have to be cut off to eat them.
At other times, women would travel with the round-up crew. A fly tent would be set up and a cow butchered for meat. Big slabs of meat would be hung over the campfire and swamp cabbage (hearts of cabbage palm trees) would be added to the menu.
After the introduction of railroads in 1915, herds of 1000-1200 cattle would be driven down highway 98 or 441 right through Okeechobee to the railroad station.
In the early 1940?s the Latt Maxcy Corporation began purchasing prairie land directly east of the Kissimmee River on what is now known as Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Considerable improvements were made for cattle ranching activities on the prairie. The Avon Park Bombing Range leased a large amount of the land for training B-17 aircraft crews in air to ground bombing maneuvers. These leases were terminated in 1946 and 1963.
After the lease termination Latt Maxcy Corporation continued to improve their property for cattle grazing by constructing drainage ditches through wet areas and sloughs and cultivating pastures. Cattle dipping vats were constructed to dip the cattle against ticks and screw worms.
Today 6,000 acres of the park that was converted to improved pasture is still grazed by cattle. Revenue generated from the park cattle lease supports resource management and restoration projects.
Surrounded by 54,000 acres of pristine land, campers at Kilpatrick Hammock Campground can experience wilderness camping with all the comforts of home. Water and electricity is provided at each site ONLY in the family camping area. A spacious bathhouse with laundry facilities is located at the family camping area and is available to all campers in the park. Pets are allowed overnight in the campgrounds. RV camping is available; however check with Reserve America as to each sites length restriction. A central dump station is located near the family campground entrance. Pets are welcome and must be on a 6 foot hand held leash and well behaved at all times. Pets must not be left unattended. Pets are allowed on the service roads but are not allowed on the Hammock Trail (orange markers) or the Prairie Trial (blue markers). Kissimmee Prairie also offers the Bedtime Story Camper Lending Library of picture books for campers aged four to nine. From insects to stars, the Lending Library is a fun way to enhance your child?s experience in the Real Florida. For a quiet afternoon or bedtime, share a story with your child to help explain the sights and sounds of Kissimmee Prairie. Check out books at the park office.
The park offers three wilderness primitive campsites. The sites are located 3.5 miles from the park office and can only be reached by hiking or bicycling. Sites have a picnic table and a fire ring. Pack in your own water and pack out your garbage. The three sites are available to individuals or groups, with a maximum of 4 persons per site. Call the Park Manager if your group is larger. Please call us at (863) 462-5360 for more information. Pets and horses are prohibited at the wilderness primitive camp sites.