Why these crystal clear springs are amazing!
Most people know all about the beaches, mild winters, and theme park attractions that make Florida a fun destination. Hiding just below the surface of the ground lies a world that makes our state one of the most unique places on earth. Florida has a vast network of passageways through its limestone bedrock very near the surface of the earth. Known as a "karst" landscape, these Swiss cheese like passages are filled with water to form what is known as the Floridan Aquifer.
While karst landscapes exist in many other parts of the world, what makes Florida unique is the number of springs and sinks where this water meets the surface and exposes us to literal windows into the aquifer. Florida has approximately 900 springs, some say even more. The water in the aquifer provides drinking water to most Floridians. The larger springs provide gorgeous recreational opportunities like paddling, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and more. Here in this article, we will explore just a few of our favorites.
Deep in the heart of Ocala National Forest there are a series of amazing natural springs that are not only picturesque, but are major sources of fresh surface water to surrounding ecosystems. Alexander Springs recreation area has a lovely swimming area with ample shallow water for the kids as well as fun snorkeling and scuba diving in the main bowl of the spring itself. The canyon like structures around the vents make the underwater views unique and beautiful. They have canoe rentals, bathrooms with showers, a small store, and a full service campground. Yearly passes are available that allow entry into all of the Ocala National Forest spring recreation areas.
Located near High Springs, Fl. Ginnie Springs is a privately owned park that is world renowned for cave diving. The park provides access to at least 7 springs depending on how much you want to explore. Paddling and tubing on the Santa Fe river are the most popular way to explore the spring system at Ginnie and many people just like to relax and float while taking dips into the cool waters of the springs. Snorkeling is also a fun way to see the underwater landscape. They have on site camping, a dive shop, camp store, restaurant, and equipment rentals. They also have a well established Scuba certification program that starts at the most basic level and allows students to progress all the way to Cave Diver level. This spring system is one of the crown jewels of the Santa Fe River.
Located in the panhandle of Florida near Marianna, Fl., Blue Springs Recreation area is a must see. First off, the spring is gigantic. It's a First Magnitude spring which means it's one of the highest Flow rates in the state. There are fields of mesmerizing grasses that sway in the water's flow creating a beautiful scene to behold. This spring sports a diving board, a slide, bathrooms, and canoe and kayak rentals. The caves of this spring are also a popular cave diving destination. The run of Blue Spring forms Merritt's Mill pond which is well worth exploring on a paddle craft. There is a lot more to discover along its route.
There are many springs that feed into the Ichetucknee River located near Ft. White, Fl. This state park has wonderful recreational opportunities such as tubing, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. There are two large springs located at the North entrance that provide good access to swimming and snorkeling. There are local campgrounds and equipment rentals nearby.
Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist county has some of the clearest water of the springs in Florida. This private park has recently been purchased by the state to likely become a state park. They have a campground, kayak rentals, bathrooms with showers, and a nice boardwalk trail out to the Santa Fe River. Not only the springs but also the spring runs are a beautiful sight to behold under the water. As with all springs, it's a good idea to keep your feet off of the bottom to protect the fragile vegetation and to keep the water clarity from getting silted up. Be still and quiet in the water if you want to really observe the plentiful fish and turtle population there.
Some important things to know about the springs here in Florida have to do with just how fragile these systems are.
The aquifer and springs are facing challenges on multiple fronts. One form of impact comes from water pumping for residential, agricultural, and industrial use. Many of the springs' flow have been reduced drastically and some springs have stopped flowing altogether. More problems occur from pollution sources which include fertilizers, septic tank runoff, underground gas tanks, and other surface runoff making its way down to the very permeable aquifer. Finally, visitor use has its impacts including damage to aquatic and shoreline vegetation, erosion issues, littering, and stressing out wildlife.
There is an impact with every action you take, both negative and positive. Be mindful in your actions and support healthy springs.
Here are some ways that you can make a difference to insure that these magical gems are protected.
•Choose foods that minimize overconsumption of water and over application of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. More on this here.
•If there is the option to connect to a system that treats sewage, please do so. If you have a septic tank, make sure it is well maintained and in proper working order.
•When visiting springs, enter and exit the water using the proper designated routes or use hard surfaces such as roots or rocks to avoid creating erosion. While in the water, keep your feet off the bottom to prevent silting and damage to vegetation. Don't litter! Give Wildlife space. Do not approach any animals in their natural setting. Allowing them the space to practice their natural behaviors can be important to their survival.
•Tell your legislators that it is important to protect the springs and the aquifer! Get involved with organizations like The Florida Springs Institute and the Florida Springs Council as they fight to protect our greatest resource.
•Enjoy the springs. Tell your friends and family about the springs and their importance. Teach children about the aquifer and the springs!
Here they are!
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