O''LENO STATE PARK
Located along the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee River, the park features sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, river swamps, and sandhills. As the river courses through the park, it disappears underground and reemerges over three miles away in the River Rise State Preserve. One of Florida's first state parks, O'Leno was first developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. The suspension bridge built by the CCC still spans the river. Visitors can picnic at one of the pavilions or fish in the river for their dinner. Canoes and bicycles are available for rent. While hiking the nature trails, visitors can look for wildlife and enjoy the beauty of native plants. The shady, full-facility campground is the perfect place for a relaxing overnight stay. Located on U.S. 441, six miles north of High Springs.
From the 1500?s through the 1700?s, there was a natural bridge area that served as a crossroad between the Santa Fe River Sink and the River Rise. Still in existence today, this is a place where the river disappears, goes underground, and then comes out in the middle of nowhere several miles away. Its flow is expelled from the underground into the surface to continue its massive flow. This natural bridge was traveled by Spanish explorers, Indians and settlers alike.
The famous road of 1824, known as Bellamy Road, was named for its builder, John Bellamy who was a wealthy plantation owner. The road was the first in Florida to be funded by federal money. The Bellamy Road ran from east to west, crossing the St. John?s River, going from Pensacola to Tallahassee (the capitol of Florida) to St. Augustine.
It was only fitting that a town would in time appear along the banks of the nearby river. A pioneer town was started by 1840, by a man named Henry Matier. The town was referred to as ?Keno? which means gambling, as this was one of the pastimes of the town and played widely throughout America. Keno was played much like today?s bingo and was sometimes played with pieces of corn on a board marked with numbers while a caller called selected numbers. As the town of Keno grew, the main livelihood was the mills which were powered by the river?s harnessed energy. Dams were made by embedding cedar slats across the river, backed by barriers of large rocks, to direct the water flow toward the mills. Valves were then channeled by planting large logs into banks edges. Some of these remnants can still be seen today when river?s water level is low, usually during the fall of the year. Two grist mills, six cotton gins and one cotton seed oil gin with a circular saw mill for lumber were in operation. A dry kiln, the only one of its kind in the area, was also in use.
The main road in town was called Wire Road, named for the telegraph line that ran along it in 1852. This was the first telegraph line in the area. Alligator Road, which intersects Wire Road, connected Keno to Alligator, which is now known as Lake City.
By the 1870?s Keno had a general merchandise store, owned and operated by a well known proprietor by the name of Colonel George M. Whetson. Some say Whetston called the town Keno because he considered it to be a risky business venture. The town also had a large hotel with a door on all four sides. The doctor of the town was Doctor William T. Thomas. There was also a blacksmith and public livery stable as well.
In 1876, Colonel Whetson applied for a post office for the town of Keno. The postal department denied the request due to the name Keno meaning gambling. Mr. Whetston then changed the name to Leno to justify that it was a decent town. The post office was put upstairs above the general store, along with the telegraph office. In 1890, Colonel Whetston moved the post office to the sister town of Mikesville, three miles away. Mikesville was thriving by 1889, with churches, an academy, and several schools. Colonel Whetston even had a balcony with a platform on the third story of his home in Mikesville, where politicians stopped by to make speeches to the public.
In 1894, there was a rumor that a railroad from Alligator (Lake City) was going to come through the area of Leno. This made the town hopeful that more progress would take place, but the train bypassed the town and went to Fort White instead. Descent soon followed, and the people of Leno moved on to other growing communities in the surrounding area. The last record of the town of Leno was in 1896. By the 1900?s, the major crop for the area were oranges, cotton and tobacco.
O?Leno has 61 family campsites, each with water, electric, in-ground grill, picnic table and a centrally located bathhouse in each camping area. Campsites can be reserved up to 11 months in advance by calling 1-800-326-3521.
O'Leno State Park provides 61 family campsites. Approximately 55 of those sites can accomodate RV type campers depending on the size of the camping rig. Each site is equipped with electrical hookups (30 and 50 AMP), potable water, an in-ground fire ring, a picnic table and a centrally located bathhouse. The dump station is located on park drive by the administration office.
Three youth camping areas, each with a covered pavilion, campfire circle, cold showers and restroom facilities. This is primitive camping with NO ELECTRIC. Youth Camping Area reservation can be made up to 11 months in advance by calling the park office at 386-454-1853. Sweetwater Lake Camping Area - primitive camping with fire circle and privy. You must hike approximately 6.5 miles to camping area and pack in all supplies needed including water. Horse Barn Camping Area - primitive camping with fire circle, centrally located bathhouse and 20 stall horse barn are available. Please call the park office at 386-454-1853 for more information.
Two youth camps provide an adult supervised youth group with a small picnic shelter, ground grill, cold showers and restroom facilities. This camping area has NO ELECTRIC. Youth Camping Area reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance by calling the park office at 386-454-1853.
Group camp facilities consist of 17 cabins, dining hall with kitchen facility, recreation hall and 2 centrally located bathhouses that can be reserved up to 1 year in advance. Individual cabins are available for rental during the off season (September 1 - May 1). Please contact the park office at 386-454-1853 for reservations and information.
A refreshing swim in the designated swimming area is a good way to enjoy the Santa Fe River. Keep in mind there is NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY: SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Explore the river by canoe and observe the area's scenic beauty and wildlife. Canoe rentals are available at the park ranger station for $3.00 per hour per canoe or $15.00 per day per canoe.
The Santa Fe River is an unpredictable fishing spot. Sometimes the fish bite, sometimes they don't. A Florida freshwater fishing license is required for anyone 16 years of age or older who wants to cast a line for bass, bream or catfish.