From the 1500s through the 1700s a natural land bridge served as a crossroad between the Santa Fe River Sink and the River Rise. It is still in existence today, and visitors can observe where the Santa Fe River disappears within O'Leno State Park, goes underground and then reemerges several miles away at River Rise Preserve State Park. Its flow is expelled from the underground unto the surface to continue its flow to the Suwannee River. This natural bridge was traveled by Spanish explorers, Indians and settlers alike.
When Florida was first being discovered, the natural land bridge between River Sink and River Rise was an important feature for the first explorers of the area. In the Spanish mission period of the 1600s, the Spanish used an Indian trail for their road running from St. Augustine, over the Santa Fe land bridge, to Tallahassee and Pensacola, calling it the El Camino Real. In 1824, the federal government contracted with John Bellamy, a plantation owner, to build the first federally-funded road running from St. Augustine to Tallahassee. This dirt road followed the El Camino Real, passing over the Santa Fe land bridge within River Rise Preserve, and is still known as Bellamy Road today.
In 1974, approximately 4,500 acres were purchased by the Florida Park Service, creating River Rise Preserve State Park, which borders O'Leno State Park. Within the preserve and O'Leno there are 18 distinct natural communities and numerous topographic features characteristic of karst areas, including sinkholes, ponds, karst windows, springs, a disappearing and reemerging stream and a natural land bridge, making this a very popular spot for many permitted scientific studies by universities and other state agencies.
Beginning in 1989, the Friends of O'Leno State Park, volunteers and staff of O'Leno State Park have built a primitive camping area in River Rise Preserve. The camping area includes a 20-stall horse barn, restroom facilities, wash rack and picnic pavilion. Ninteen miles of multi-use trails were built throughout the preserve for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. River Rise Preserve has become a very popular spot for camping and horseback riding.
River Rise Preserve has been the location for many special events, including competitive trail rides, trail challenges and endurance rides, along with non-competitive events like Christmas for Horses.