Just before dawn on the third day of road trip, we had parked just outside Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park at White Springs, Florida. After driving on the road for about 4 hours, I had taken 15 minute nap, killing time before the facility opening. Down the hill from my vehicle had existed an interesting piece of history regarding the town. Up to this point in my travels, I had become comfortable with the clear, blue and relatively clean smelling waters of all the other springs in Florida; however, down the hill had existed the brown waters of the Suwannee river. The river’s hue had come from plant decay (i.e. tannins), coloring the waters a dark coffee color. Just past the slope, I had walked across a small wooden bridge going towards the remnants of an old style bathhouse. Below, I had seen the babbling of a tiny boil. Further down, I had walked along the side of the concrete bathhouse. Approaching the rumble of water gushing into the river, I had thought maybe a water treatment facility. With the overwhelming smell of sulfur, I had dry heaved 4 or 5 times. Reading signage at the front of the structure, this location had served as a popular destination from various native Indian tribes and then some, for the sulfur springs. Locals had built the concrete enclosure back in 1903, isolating the springs from flooding with a series of locks.
After making my way back up the hill, the state park had opened. I was excited with the potential of a canoeing. Never a good sign, when the park ranger had graciously redirected your attention to hiking. Nevertheless, after scoping out the water level, my friend and I had embarked onto portion of the backwoods. The park had seemed extremely tranquil, less the firing of a rifle and bells ringing. Walking along the Suwannee River, I had caught a glimpse of a deer and a pair of snakes. Despite missing out on the canoeing from low water levels, I was satisfied with the active move up and down the local topography.
The park had publicized itself as “home of the world’s largest set of tubular bells.” Heading back from the trail, I had hoped to see this hallmark of the Stephen Foster, a 10 am performance of tubular bell music. With few hours on the trail, we had missed out on this event. Instead, we had visited the building housing the bells. On the ground floor were exhibits regarding the building and Stephen Foster. Some items were fascinating, a small scale replica of the housing for the bells, other musical artifacts and a golden figure of Stephen Foster. One specific exhibit had bordered on questionable taste. Half of the encased exhibit had shown musicians playing on a porch, the other half echoing an offensive stereotype. Some historical curator had chosen to share this with the public? What had you thought?
Aside from being known for the “sulfur” springs, the town of White Springs had sponsored an annual 4 day Florida Folk Festival. This town was also known for Big Shoals State Park with the only class 3 rapids in Florida. After a quick vehicle inspection and a food check, we had headed to that stop next.