For the first time since rehearsals started in February, I’ve got a weekend off. Oh, I still need to drive up to Atlanta for Monday’s rehearsal, but there isn’t one on Sunday this week. I have some precious free time, and I know exactly what I’m going to do with it.
Florida State Parks! Devils’ Millhopper is the only park of any sort I’ve visited since I got down here, and even then it was only a couple hours. It’s a crying shame really, I know Florida has a lot of neat natural places.
I want to see a spring, darnit. I loved the one I saw up in Missouri the first fall I hit the road, and I see signs for them on my drive back and forth from Georgia so I know they’re around. I ask the experts (my coworkers at the station) for advice on which in the area is most worth seeing. Ginnie Springs is beautiful but it costs more to get in being privately owned and since alcohol is allowed on the grounds it’s often rowdier and louder than the state park ones. Ichetucknee Springs State Park is the other one they both recommended, so that’s where I set my sights.
The entrance fee is $5 per carload of up to 8 this time of year, or $6 if you want to go swimming in the springs. If you’re going to go tubing, or take a kayak or canoe down the six crystal clear miles of the Ichetucknee river, there’s an additional fee of $5 per person – several private outfits in the area ofter equipment rentals. These are the most popular activities at the park. During the off season only the southern half of the tubing route is open, to allow the springs to recover from the busy season.
Also available during the off season is scuba diving, which I found pretty nifty. There are two springs within the park, both off of the North entrance. Ichetucknee Spring is the premier swimming one, it’s shallower at one end and is not as high producing, so the current isn’t as swift – good for younger kids.
Blue Hole Spring is where scuba diving is allowed. It’s deeper, has a swifter current, and is not as picturesque. There is river grass growing along the bottom making it look kind of dark and foreboding, but in the center is a blue hole – an open top cave that goes down 40 feet. Old time visitors are apt to call it jug spring, because’s that’s what the cave looks like, there is a relatively narrow opening where it boils up to the surface pool, but once you swim down through that opening there’s a larger cave underneath with a flat sand bottom.
There are four trails, but really the focus of this park isn’t hiking, if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. All are less than a mile except for the 2.1 mile Pine Ridge Trail that features the famous sand hill ecosystem that the OSBS is working to maintain. Getting to Blue Hole Spring requires a 1/3 mile walk, and there is a ½ mile walk along the river which while short is quite pretty.
Ichetucknee spring is almost right off of the parking lot, so that’s what I see first. The sky has been overcast since I woke up this morning and it will continue to be so all day, except for the 20 minutes or so that I’m at that first spring the sun pokes through the clouds and allows me to get a couple great pictures. The springs stay at a constant 72 degrees all year round, and the high today is 77. Not exactly great swimming weather but a couple families are getting into the water, no one stays in real long.
I walk the trail along the river and admire the ginormous trees along the river banks, and then take the short one out to Blue Hole Spring. There isn’t another soul in sight, I love visiting parks in the off season. I had brought my camp chair and kindle with me, so I set it up right there on the deck next to the spring and have a good 45 minutes with no sound but the wind through the trees, the burbling water, and the birds singing of spring. What a good life.
When some teenagers show up to go swimming I relocate to the picnic area and read for a while longer, gathering up my courage. I’d brought my swimming stuff with me just in case, but had not full decided to get in the water. Seeing so many people at least try though, I feel a bit chicken for not giving it a go, this will be the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to go swimming in one.
The bath house is right next to Ichetucknee spring off of the parking lot. I change and with some trepidation walk down to the water. It’s started to sprinkle, there’s a 50% chance of rain for the afternoon, and there aren’t many people around now. A grandmother has brought her granddaughter down to get in the water, but like me she’s reluctant to because of the cold water. The girl eventually gets in, but they don’t stay in long before leaving to eat. I have it all to myself.
I start getting in on the steps. In this situation some people like to take the plunge and jump in, getting it all over at once, I’m not as fond of that method. Step by step I inch deeper, letting myself adjust to the temperature a bit at a time, it’s chilly! While I’m taking it slow a couple close to my age and a older gentleman show up together. The older man plunges right in beside me, and now I really would feel chicken if I let him show me up like that, so I take the rest of it quickly.
The water at the foot of the stairs doesn’t look deep, but it’s over my head. Luckily I’m a pretty good swimmer. The other side of the stone deck is shallower. It’s kind of unnerving, getting to see that much of what’s in the pond, and I’m glad to have other people in with me, just in case something happens.
We shortly get to talking, and I find out the older man relocated from Maine and has been living in nearby High Springs for a while now. His son is visiting from Maine with his new fiance – they just got engaged on Tuesday and are so clearly happy about their new life together. We talk a little about work, life, and things to see in the area, and then they get out. I just love meeting people at places like this, the conversations are usually more enjoyable than in other settings. I stay a little bit longer, enjoying having the spring all to myself for a while, it’s a magical moment.
But it’s also getting cold. All in all I’m only in the water for about twenty minutes, then I get out and change. On the hour long drive back to the OSBS I treat myself to Pizza Hut for supper since I’ll be able to put the leftovers in the fridge once I get there.
When I go to bed I fall asleep quickly, there are no problems that demand my attention, no worries to mull over. Just contentment from a good day spent outside in a wonderful place.