The Friends of Paynes Prairie was organized in 1985 as a result of a conversation between Carl Lipsius and Park Manager Jack Gillen. Lipsius and Gillen, in the company of Frank Saier, Ed Johnson, William Mauzy, Mark Barrow, and David Flagg, recognized a need to help the Preserve to procure support and equipment not available through normal State channels. The organization was incorporated under Florida Not-For-Profit Corporation statutes early in 1986, and in 2004 became a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt corporation.
The Friends of Paynes Prairie, Inc. has flourished as an organization, growing from fewer than 30 members in 2003 to over 450 in 2011. Available funding has grown as well and many features now seen in the Park were sponsored in part by the Friends.
The Friends has been active in many projects over the years, including the Primitive Arts Festival, the La Chua Trail interpretive booth, the Art On the Prairie programs, other events at the Visitors Center, the weekly Union Street Farmers Market in downtown Gainesville, and the development of a grant to re-design the Visitors Center.