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Paynes Prairie is a wildlife preserve

What can you tell me about Paynes Prairie? I've heard it was once a big lake but developers drained it and now the state is raising bison there. What's the story?

D. H.

Response: Paynes Prairie, some 10 miles south of Gainesville on U.S. 441, is an 18,000-acre preserve managed by the Florida Park Service.

Most of this area consists of a shallow basin formed by settling of the underlying limestone. A sinkhole called the Alachua sink is on the north end of this depression connected by a canal to Alachua Lake. Excess rain water drains through the sinkhole into the aquifer.

Twice in recorded history the sinkhole has become plugged with debris causing 15,000 of the surrounding acres to flood. The temporary lake got to be 15 to 20 feet deep in places and steamboats traveled on it. The last time this occurred was in the late 1800s.

Since that time, cattle ranchers have tried to drain the remaining lakes and marshes by building dams, dikes and canals in order to increase their grazing area. Since the Florida Park Service took over the land, it has bulldozed some of these dams and tried to re-establish the area's natural hydrology. A bison herd is part of the effort to return the prairie to its natural state.

During the late 1600s, the largest cattle ranch in Spanish Florida operated there. The prairie gets its name from King Payne, a Seminole chief.

Today, Paynes Prairie is one of Florida's most spectacular wildlife parks, featuring a visitors center, ranger-led walks, hikes and horseback rides, camping and picnicking. Most of the animal life described by naturalist William Bartram 200 years ago still abounds, including 300 bird species, white-tailed dear, bobcats, rabbits and, of course, lots of snakes.

Apartment conditions should be documented

I need advice.

I leased a condominium for one year. The leasing agent assured me that the apartment would be spic and span with the new carpet fuzz vacuumed up before I moved in. None of that was done. On the day I moved I had to spend four hours cleaning before I could unpack.

I verbally complained to the agent and later sent a letter of complaint to the owner.

When I moved out and got my deposit back, it was short $55. They said it was used to cover the cost of cleaning my apartment.

I dispute this deduction. If I am expected to pay $55 for cleaning the apartment when I leave it, then I should be paid $55 for cleaning it when I moved in, but the owner insists the apartment was cleaned before I moved in.

Did I handle this wrongly? I don't have copies of my first complaint. Does that mean I am out on a limb and stuck with a $55 loss?

Vicki Stalnaker

Response: In reply to our inquiry, the manager of Village Lake condominiums tells us that CV Realty spent a great deal of money on the condo before you moved into it. They refinished the bathtub and kitchen counter, installed new draperies, had the unit painted, installed a new kitchen floor and carpet and put new drip pans in the stove top.

She knows the unit was cleaned, she says, because the cleaning people ripped the new kitchen vinyl when they moved the stove to clean behind it. In fact, the only thing not perfect was the new carpet, which had not been vacuumed, she says, but she doubts that it took you four hours to vacuum two rooms.

When you moved out, on the other hand, you did not attempt to clean a thing, but left refrigerator, oven, drip pans, kitchen floor and bathroom dirty, she says.

Next time you rent an apartment, arm yourself with a renter's checklist. Before moving in, do a walk-through with your leasing agent, checking off the condition of floors, walls, fixtures and furnishings. Both of you should sign the checklist. It also might help to take snapshots of the place.

Then, when you move out and leave the apartment in the same condition in which you found it, you will have documentation in case you must use Small Claims Court to collect your security deposit.