Sometimes secrets are just a left turn off the highway on a road trip in Florida.
During my father’s eulogy, I had rehearsed words in my mind, “While one door closes, another opens.” This sentiment had embodied our personal journeys moving forward until final conclusion. Whether through pictures, text, or sounds, the composition of shared story telling experiences had turned my hands right maneuvering into Poe Springs Park.
If just a casual passer by, the open greenery of the park had appeared exceedingly mundane; however, walking down the wooden board walk, the spring boil was brimming with water bugs and a multitude of green hues. Walking down the concrete stairs bordering the spring, my friend had warned me of the disconcerting slipperiness of green algae on its steps. Catching a small quick slip moving downward, I had quickly conceded to gravity into the shallow waters.
With the overhang of trees and break of the sunlight, it was hard to see the opposing water’s edge. Was there a gator in the darkness? Who had known but, I wasn’t going to travel any further than required for swimming into the boil. Submerging myself further into the spring waters, it had pushed back with distinct force from the cropping of jagged openings.
Away from the calming charm of the spring head, its waters emptied out into the expanse of the Sante Fe River. This river was product of the many springs along its twisting curves. Like leaves on the water’s surface, I had drifted onto the corner of accompanying fishing pier overlooking the Sante Fe River.
A week later, sick in bed, feeling like death, I hadn’t pondered the meaning of turning off the road into Poe Springs Park. Reflecting now, I had believed times like these fill our work, our lives with hope. In the end, without hope, how does a person start the day?
From an ecological point of view, I had wondered how John Muir might reflect on such an area on this October day.
Perhaps, it was the crisp blue springs waters next to the nearby train tracks.
Or maybe, the expansive open picnic area that had rolled like soft green waves under the park’s entrance.
Rainbow Springs State Park was elevated terrain, lifting one’s visceral response beyond the stereotypical flat topography of Florida. With hues of yellow, green, red and blue on display, flowing through the fall air was a sentiment on the edge of spirituality. Representing the thousands of indigenous state springs, this location had embodied all the reasons for protecting the environment. You hadn’t needed a whole of lot money ($2 per person) for experiencing one of Florida’s most versatile and picturesque parks. An open mind was the only thing required for embracing the charm of its small walks and swimming in the sun on this October day.
Rainbow Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
John Muir (Wikipedia)
Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 (BallotPedia)
My first fall living in the Greater Orlando area, a friend had drove me out to Kelly Park in Apopka, Florida. Unsure of the distance, the commute had seemed to take an eternity in the passenger seat from downtown. This weekend, I had decided to “Pay it forward” by inviting out another friend for a drift down the clear waters of Rock Springs.
Before hitting the road on this Sunday afternoon, I had called the front gate verifying park capacity. Luckily, even with a late start around noontime, foot traffic was light because of morning temperatures starting in the 60s. During the last two miles of the drive, we had pulled into a road side vendor renting inter-tubes. After picking up two for $3 cash a piece, we had headed for the park entrance.
After parking, my friend and I had walked about the perimeter of the springs and accompanying run. Entering at the spring head, I had started swimming against the current, raising my body temperature preparing for our trek. After a few minutes of swimming in place, I had hoisted myself above a split in the limestone overhang.
On re-entry, I had sat atop the inter-tube quickly passing under the first wooden boardwalk. Turning right into the first bend, the current was moving at a brisk pace. During this moment, the shade had gave way to the warming sunshine. An inch long, metallic looking, blue dragon fly had landed on my knee. Then, it had hovered, landed and flown away.
Passing the bulk of human activity on the second bend, we had reached the final stretch of water. At the third and final bend, the sounds of lapping water and crickets had communicated a calm serenity. Another dispersion of dragon flies had passed above the water. Now, that long drive years ago was small penance on this picturesque Florida day.
Kelly Park is located at:
400 E Kelly Park Road, Apopka, Florida 32712
Summer: 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.;
Winter: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.;
Monday – Sunday
$3 per vehicle for 1-2 people; $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people
Kelly Park/Rock Springs (Orange County)
Driving a new route into National Canaveral Seashore park, I was reminded of the expansive acreage encompassing the area. On the left, I had viewed many charred trunks of palms from controlled burns. On the right shoulder, I had seen the most butterflies since being in elementary school. Before my final turn into the park gate, a solitary turtle had struggled to cross the center of the road. Fortunately, the lack of traffic had allowed me to swerve slightly into the median avoiding a possible road kill, buzz-kill moment.
Arriving at the gate, I had thought out loud,”How many times have I been here over the past year? Maybe I should just get a pass?” At that moment, the ranger had waved us past the guard house. The reason was National Public Lands Day, meaning free admission to any national park. I was ecstatic at the surprise of saving $5. Perhaps, it was good karma for showing mercy upon the tiny turtle earlier on?
Eventually parking at Lot 1, a few ladies were headed to their vehicle. They had commented out-loud on the rough surf. With that thought in mind, I had carefully waded into the seas wondering,”How rough?” After few moments of swimming and trending water, the undertow seductively had pulled me out beyond my comfort level. After this realization, I had swam back to shallows enjoying the forceful nature of the waves while swimming in place. It had served as an extra round of exercise over the heated gym pool earlier in the morning.
After wrapping up for the afternoon, I had headed toward the boardwalk. Right next to the wooden steps, a fish head had captured my attention. Not too far away was a small cluster of pink flowers blooming. The Canaveral National Seashore had always served as reminder of the duality of nature. Sometimes showcasing life, other moments, it had offered testament to death with an empty shells or carcasses. The reason for my affinity for the park was this dichotomy.
If you hadn’t visited this park, the next day for free admission was November 11, Veterans Day. The vast acreage had offered opportunities for fishing, swimming, hiking and primitive camping. For more information visit, Canaveral National Seashore (National Park Service)
Free Entrance Days in the National Parks (National Park Service)
An acquaintance had defined fresh water springs as simply, “A hole in the ground with water in it.” For some, the confining nature of a closed body of water with little aquatic life had probably fit that description. With my affinity for the crystal blue waters of Andros Island, Bahamas, that assessment was probably on point; however, questions had motivated my return to Troy Springs State Park @ Branford, Florida. Questions of unknown sights, limits, and connections had helped steer my vehicle across a three hour drive to the heart of north Florida.
Upon arrival, my first question about the park being underutilized had gone out the window. A group of scuba divers had conducted training drills filling the park with chatter and foot traffic. So, my friend and I had opted to wait for the activity to clear.
Patiently, I had sat on a wooden bench by the spring boil thinking of my second set of questions. What was beyond the darkness on the surface? What had concerned a dive shop owner to recommend staying clear of this descent after getting scuba certified? After cooking in the summer heat for 30 minutes, my dive buddy and I had moved into the water closing in on some answers.
Reaching 70 feet, the view was unremarkable with shadow, sand, limestone, and logs. Though, one creature had stood out, a tiny brown flounder hugging the shady spring floor. To the question of avoiding this dive after getting Padi certified, there was depth and the dangerous allure of cavernous openings.
The next reason for the trip was my friend demonstrating his ability to still function diving, despite a bum shoulder. This was an important benchmark before suggesting an open water dive in a cattle boat on the Atlantic. To that end, he had appeared like a playful otter flipping over in circles maintaining a consistent depth.
The last question was reconnecting with fresh water springs. For most of the 24 minute dive, the springs had lost some of its’ luster from the previous year. My perspective had changed with an emphasis away from swimming to diving. Though, this notion soon had changed during our safety stop. Perhaps, it was the white noise of water pushing out into the spring. This noise had provided a similar experience to lounging out in amniotic fluid. For a moment, I had felt a calm floating about with my legs and my arms crossed awaiting to rise to into the summer heat. Much like the surface skimming insects, there was a reason to be here. I had only needed to slow the mind for a minute for that epiphany of grace.
Troy Springs State Park is located at 674 Troy Springs Road, Branford, Florida 32008
Phone: (386) 935-4835
Troy Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
Heading south on A1A to Bahia Honda State Park @ Big Pine Key, Florida, I had remembered the cadence of my wheels clearing portions of the bridge above the Atlantic. Looking left, I had caught a passing glimpse of the now decommissioned Old Bahia Honda Bridge feeding into the park. One sensation I had recalled most, the summer air blowing against my arm driving toward this destination.
Clearing the bridge, my vehicle had come upon the park entrance on the left side of A1A. After the gate, the asphalt road was bordered by thick greenery. Moving forward, the road had curved few times in different directions. After one curve, it had gave way to views of the shallow waters beyond the guardrail. Perhaps this reveal was part of the charm of Bahia Honda? All that greenery was followed by the contrasting blue waters and white sands, typical of a postcard of the Florida Keys.
Arriving at the parking lot, the walk to the ocean was around 100ft through picnic tables into the turbulent waters this May Saturday afternoon. To my chagrin, the waters were remarkably cool for this far south. After taking refreshing quick dip in the ocean, I had hopped back into my car to dry out in the heat. Leaving this park, I had wished only for less foot traffic and more time in the sun. The park had offered flats for fishing, ample beach for swimming and more. Reminiscing about this diversion, I had thought I would very much like to return for another round of exploration.
Bahia Honda State Park is located at:
36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key, Florida 33043
Phone: (305) 872-2353
Bahia Honda State Park (floridastateparks.org)
Bahia Honda State Park (bahiahondapark.com)
For my many journeys into the Wekiva Basin, I hadn’t the opportunity to take underwater footage around the spring head until now. This quick video had embodied the sanctity of the spring head on a Sunday morning on July 18th, 2014. The story behind this visit was being turned away the previous day. The important secret for Wekiva Springs State Park most of the year, especially during weekdays, more so in the winter months, visitor traffic was light; however, on hot summer weekends, I had recommended getting there early, between 7 AM – 8 AM.
If you hadn’t known, Wekiva Springs was a 1st magnitude spring. Meaning the spring head had pushed out a tremendous amount of water, roughly 100 cubic feet per second. Another fact regarding the State of Florida, it was home to the most fresh water springs in the world. If you were interested learning more about other similarly classified state springs hop over to Apalacheehills.com’s List of First-Magnitude Springs in Florida. If already a visitor to Wekiva, I had recommended hitting these other 1st magnitude springs in Florida like Silver, Rainbow, Wakulla, Ichetucknee, Blue, Troy, Silver Glen, Weeki Wachee and Alexander. With summer 2014 drawing to close, I had simply thought to say “Jump in the water!”
Long Key State Park had fit the bill for a random interlude for pulling to the side of the road and viewing the tropical surroundings. The great attraction was the quick access to the shoreline. There was very little foot traffic aside from one park ranger. A few benches had lined the side of the parking lot. The bulk of my visit, I had sat in my vehicle looking across the horizon thinking of what tomorrow might bring. The only other drawback was the timing of low tide making swimming in the flat impractical.
Combining the Florida State Park Annual Pass for families with one time seasonal fee of $5.00 for Monroe County surcharge, had made exploring this and other state parks affordable on this road trip down into the Florida Keys.
Long Key State Park is located at 67400 Overseas Hwy, Layton, Florida 33001
Park hours: 8:00 AM until dusk 365 days a year. Admission Fees:
$5.00* per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle.
$2.00* Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
$4.00* Single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle.
* Plus $.50 per person Monroe County Surcharge.
During a scouting trip through the Florida Keys with a buddy, I had searched for a location for hopping into the azure blue salt water off the coast with little effort and few people. On the second day of driving southbound toward Key West, Veteran’s Memorial Park just past the Seven Mile Bridge @ Little Duck Key had provided that venue. The opportunity also had provided the chance for testing out my new GoPro3.
After clearing the Seven Mile Bridge at Little Duck Key, I had pulled into parking lot on the right accessing the now defunct bridge. Walking down the decommissioned run of the Seven Mile Bridge, I had passed some folks fishing from each side of the bridge. Before reaching the end, I had come across the dried out corpse of a moray eel. Apparently the little guy had missed the memo about hydration and sun screen. After walking down a bit further, about a good half mile, I had reached the end. At this cut off, I had a clear view of other end of the bridge no longer in service. I had thought this would be a perfect location for a photo op at dawn or dusk.
Once returning to the car from the escapade on the bridge, I walked across the road to Veteran’s Memorial Park. Entry was free with park hours dawn to dusk. The beach and shallow waters were easily accessible. On this side of the key there was decent amenities like restrooms and shaded picnic tables. If looking for a pit stop going to Key West, this had seemed an ideal location for a breather. For myself, I had fired up my GoPro3 taking a test round of footage. Despite some shaky camera work, the footage had still recorded enough material communicating the natural beauty and feel of the park.
Though a brief interlude, each location had definitely caught the spirit of the Florida Keys I had yearned for from afar. Moments in the sun that had embodied the American ideal of manifest destiny driving toward tomorrow.
Seven Mile Bridge (Wikipedia)
Two weeks after surgery, I had discovered an ever increasing desire to wonder around Central Florida. With a little help from my friends, I had tempered this flame with standard fare from walking at Lake Lily Park to Lake Eola; however, that was just the start. Hitting the road yesterday to Canaveral National Seashore, I had wrapped up the weekend back in the heart of Central Florida with swimming at Wekiva Springs State Park.
The latter two outings were less than ideal with chilling coastal winds to cloudy waters of an over populated springhead. The importance of the walking and swimming this weekend was an affirmation of a healthy recovery. In some sense, I was grateful in earning back more mobility. Though, in the back of my psyche, I had recalled dialing down my fervor a few notches. It wasn’t like I was playing with snakes seeking atonement, rather simple solace. This notion sometimes had seemed easier stated than done with an elderly lady power walking right by you as an adult male.
Recovery from surgery for anyone, was a measure of equal parts physical healing and mental attitude. With possibility of pain and discomfort acquiescing to a “pity party” was the lost opportunity in focusing a return to some sense of normalcy. Before surgery, I had blogged for folks to make the most of their day. Today, for those with a recent procedure(s), I had thought the same rule applies. I hadn’t needed to beat grandma, just redirect that intensity elsewhere. I had dared you to do the same no matter your circumstance, just live it up!
Wekiva Springs State Park (Florida State Park)
Most of this week in Florida, the weather had gone back in forth between warm to cold and back again, sometimes with variations of 30 degrees or more. Now, normally I hadn’t cared one way or another regarding the elements outside for going to the gym. Though, starting Sunday, I was blessed with a touch of the cold making the rounds with my fellow bipeds. Monday and Tuesday, I had conceded to resting and hydrating. Entering into Wednesday, two of my good friends had wanted to visit La Fitness. One had inquired if any interest? As with most days, I had stuffed my backpack for either a morning or afternoon gym interlude. In my mind, like the weather, I had switched back and forth on deciding on following through on some basic cardio.
With the witching hour upon me, I had chosen to go. Either way, I was going to be congested. The logic for going, I had thought, “I’ll be so exhausted afterward quickly succumbing to sleep!” Plus, I had figured another means of working phlegm and other impurities out of my body. The good news was after this outing and each on Thursday and Friday achieving deeper sleep and feeling better. Then, Saturday had arrived. I was key on alternating to swimming for resting my knees joints and legs muscles. I had decided on hitting Winter Park’s La Fitness for their salt water pool. After completing my mundane chores for the day, I had started driving to the gym. While jamming to tunes on my iPhone, a friend had texted me up about visiting Wekiva Springs. My immediate response was absolutely. I had pondered hitting one of the state parks during the weekend anyway.
With all the weather fluctuations in Florida recently, some people had wondered, “Why bother?” Well, if you were in one of the snow ridden states today, Wekiva Springs constantly maintains a 72 degree temperature. For some folks maybe too cold but, as another park visitor had eloquently responded later in the day, “Warmer than the North Atlantic!” Picking up my pal, we had driven out to the park. The sun had started breaking through the clouds shedding heat and light. It had reminded me of the early days of spring. At the gate, the park ranger had stated “That doesn’t look like you?” while looking at our park pass without a photo ID. I had followed up by turning the card over pointing to a big yellow flower on the opposing face. He then had smiled big waiving us forward.
After parking, we had walked down to Wekiva Springs swimming area. Having affixed swimming goggles to my eyes, I had submerged into the fresh spring waters. Exhausting myself with just a lap, I had exited looking up to sky. I had reflected on what a great reason to skip inhabiting the walls of any place including the gym. In contrast to the rest of the country’s weather fortunes, I had thought, ”What a beautiful day for a swim @ Wekiva Springs!”
Returning today from a scuba lesson from Florida’s Alexander Springs in Ocala National Forest, I had pondered a question by a fellow classmate, ”Why challenge yourself with learning both things so close to together?” I had responded, “To expand possibilities.” Inside my mind, I had thought different motivations exist. With my 42nd birthday this December, how much time was left for my sight, muscles, joints, heart, or brain to carry out the maximum potential of certain experiences? No one knows when life had played your last card. Maybe, it was the competitive nature of keeping up with a friend younger than myself. Maybe, it was just fun or another avenue for cardio. For the most part, ego had provided the motivation for a journey back into water.
With swimming, I had never learned really how to swim confidently without fins, mask or snorkel as a child in the Bahamas. This bad precedent, a decision of my own, I had never revisited until this year. As a Navy brat, I had lived most of my life within an hour or less from the ocean. After returning stateside from Andros Island, Bahamas to the murky delta waters of the St. John’s River and Jacksonville Beaches, I had lost an inspiration to adventure out to the shore. The contrasting experience, in my opinion, was insurmountable. This October, with recent wear and tear on my ankles and knees from jogging, I had figured, “What a good time to switch horses for cardio!” The past two months, I had rotated to swims at my pool, the gym, fresh water springs, and the ocean. Steadily, I had improved but, elderly men and women left me in their wake leisurely. Part of the frustration of learning swimming was expending too much energy on keeping my head above water and engaging appendages full throttle. Reflecting on weight training from my 20s to now, this activity was counterintuitive. Swimming was not about power but, graceful breathing. This past Monday, I had finally gotten to 16 laps in the gym pool. This Friday, I had finally achieved an uninterrupted lap around the perimeter of Wekiva Springs swimming area. Both events had underscored the value of swimming as a good substitute for running and learning something new!
That second point had brought me to Scuba lessons. A friend had floated the suggestion of getting certified. I had figured why not add another dimension to adventures for the upcoming year; however, the past couple of weeks, I had stressed myself out with budgeting money, time, and health to work through tomorrow, my final day of a Padi Scuba class. During training, an instructor had rightfully told me, “Relax underwater.” I had translated that into “don’t freak out man.” Easy to say, if failing was a familiar refrain. My instructor, Bob, had gladfully provided support to make this endeavor, fun and fulfilling. If you hadn’t understood his memory imprinting with certain repetitive tasks, perhaps you might be missing the point in the real world.
With final day of class tomorrow, I had aimed to “freak out” less, relax and the enjoy the submersion into the waters around Rainbow Springs State Park. Epiphanies had never come when you expect them but, with effort lies opportunity. In that potential, I had asked the question to try to find, “What’s inside me? What’s inside you?”
For Scuba lessons:
Checkout, Wekiva Springs State Park – Apopka, Florida, or if too cold, La Fitness’s heated saltwater pool in Winter Park, Florida
Alexander Springs – Ocala National Forest – Florida (GarzaFX)
Rainbow Springs State Park -Dunnellon, Florida (GarzaFX)
Wekiva Springs State Park – Apopka, Florida (GarzaFX)
Writing this post, I had thought being a turtle, might be the ideal existence. They had seemed to populate all the cool watering holes in Florida with the least amount of people. The latest fresh water spring that had met this description, Wes Skiles Peacock Springs in Live Oak, Florida. From a technical standpoint, Peacock Springs had offered approximately 33,000 feet of underwater caverns for those with the proper scuba certification. With respect to flow, it was classified as a magnitude 2 spring. This state park had run about 15 minutes away from Troy Springs State Park and 45 minutes from Ichetucknee Springs State Park.
From the entrance, the single lane pavement had quickly given way to a dirt road. I hadn’t seen how any two cars could manage heading in opposite directions. So, I had strongly recommended driving slowly, just not turtle slow 🙂 Obstructing the sun and clouds above, tree over hang had predominated the path forward. In reflection, it had achieved a calming, zen like quality with all the greenery.
After pulling into the back parking lot, I had walked down to take some pictures and video. My friend had taken a few moments to go swimming, seeing bit of algae and a turtle. Ironically, we had bumped into a two other park visitors from earlier in the day. They had also visited Big Shoals State Park in White Springs and Troy Springs in Branford. Both had seemed to be performing a similar scouting trip with swimming and a GoPro. Unfortunately, I had left one of my Sketcher’s Go-Run running shoes and $10 swimming goggles at the last stop, Troy Springs. Hating the idea of wasting money, even worse going shopping, I had cut this visit short. Maybe someday, I had hoped to return for an extended stay.
Wes Skiles Peacock Springs (Florida State Parks)
Ichetucknee Springs State Park @ Fort White, Florida (GarzaFX)
Troy Springs State Park @ Branford, Florida (GarzaFX)
Going to Salt Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest, the adventure had begun with a friend’s email for ideas on travel for Veteran’s Day. After agreeing to a sketch of locations the night before, I had fired up my car’s ignition heading out to locations familiar and unknown. Of the many springs in Central Florida, I had skirted with perimeter of this area before with the Salt Springs Observation Trail; however, I had yet to encounter one of the most photogenic spring heads in the state. After visiting Wildcat Lake Park, we had headed up US 40. After turning onto Florida Highway 19, about a mile up the road, an adult brown bear and her two cubs had decided to cross the road from the right. We had slowed down in attempting to capture photographic evidence of this passing encounter. In retrospect, probably better the bears had all darted back into the woods of Ocala National Forest. With the enticing smell of peanut butter from my center console plus cubs, wild bears had provided the potential for unpredictable behavior. After reaching the town of Salt Springs, I had noticed the signage for Salt Springs Observation Trail. On that trail, I had seen numerous trees with the bark ripped from their sides. The memories of this unkempt trail had reinforced my earlier thoughts on the bear encounter. These magnificent creatures, though cute, had demanded respect with distance, less encounter misfortune.
On the north side of the town, the entrance for Salt Springs Recreation Area had appeared on the right. Heading into the park, we had wondered if any Federal workers might be around because of the free admission on Veteran’s day. At the gate, a park ranger had greeted us reiterating policy of no pets and no alcohol handing us a parking permit. Driving forward, we both had wondered if they might know, ”How salty were the springs waters?” At the end of Salt Springs Observation Trail, the odor of brackish waters were quite overwhelming coming off the downstream waterway.
After parking, we had scouted the enclosed swimming area with multiple boils. The first color that had popped out looking into the springs heads, a golden yellow tint of some of the rocks. Thereafter, something unexpected had transpired. Flying fish had shot into the air, making quite a ruckus with splashing sounds. Ironically, while trying to document this activity, the fish had stopped their activity, almost on cue. Following this inactivity, they had jumped out of the waters, always seeming to avoid our two cameras. Finally, after some patience, I had caught at least two glimpses on my iPhone.
After switching gears, we had entered the waters of Salt Springs. My buddy had decided to try on his new fins, snorkel, booties and mask. I had opted for picking up more swim time with my goggles. In the waters, the flying fish had appeared to be large mullet with no predator in pursuit. They moved around the underwater vegetation and spring openings with ease. Swimming to the multiple boils, each had a distinct depth, shape and current. The shallow yellow tinted rocks had provided quick and easy access to each boil, even for a novice swimmer. For a holiday, the park had remained fairly devoid of any foot traffic, less an elderly couple. After moving through the perimeter of the enclosed swimming area, we had opted to leave early, making time for our final destination of Silver Glen Springs. At the end of our excursion, we had answered the question regarding the briny nature of the spring head. The waters that day, despite the name, had provided a faint salty aftertaste.
If you hadn’t visited this tranquil Florida backdrop, get out there!
Salt Springs Recreation Area
Address: 13851 Florida 19,
Salt Springs, FL 32134
Salt Springs (USDA Forest Service)
Salt Springs Observation Trail in Ocala National Forest @ Salt Springs, Florida (GarzaFX)
Silver Glen Springs, Ocala National Forest, FL (GarzaFX)
Heading out on State Road 40, I had passed this park a few times going to various destinations (Silver Glen Springs, Alexander Springs and Juniper Springs) in the Ocala National Forest. Heading out to Salt Springs this past Veterans’ Day, I had finally taken a stop to check out Wildcat Lake Park. After parking, I had explored the boat launch area. There, I had an unobstructed view of the wide open body of water of Wildcat Lake from a wooden pier. In the distance, one fisherman, on his boat, had waited patiently for fish to bite. For being around 9 am in the morning, on a holiday, there was very little activity, less the one visitor. Wildcat Lake had embodied the serenity and peace of rural Florida.
After taking some photos and video off the pier, I had walked up past the on-premise restrooms to check out the swimming area. Moving to the waters’ edge, the swimming area had seemed shallow and fit only for small children. Though, I had wondered how wise that might be with an alligator sign up the hill. In these shallow waters, I had seen quite a few tiny fish darting around avoiding the camera’s gaze. With the uncooperative stars, I had decided to get back in my vehicle to complete an impromptu journey to another portion of Ocala National Forest.
If you had looked for a place to picnic or fish with a great open view, take a stop. It was a good pit stop for us before heading out to Salt Springs and Silver Glen Springs.
Park fee is $3. Hours: dusk to dawn. Wildcat Lake Park had lacked an address; however, is located up US 40. The physical location is Latitude : 29.1704370217539 Longitude : -81.6276197855908.
For reference, on Veteran’s day, most national parks had offered free admission (i.e. Wildcat, Salt Springs, Silver Glen, etc..)
Wildcat Lake Park (US Forest Service)
Before proceeding to take a tour of the Florida Caverns, I had the opportunity to explore the back end of the park. If only hitting the caverns, you had missed out on the camping areas, horse trails, hiking trails and clean restrooms at the back of the property. Coming round to the tail end of the acreage, the road had gone up on a slight hill. On the left shoulder, probably the nicest looking restrooms in the state park system. Below this change area and outdoor shower, a scenic view that had given way to waters on the edge of my vision. Walking down the greens had appeared the deep aquamarine colors of Blue Hole and Blue Hole run. Blue Hole, though not advertised off the state’s website, had provided a means for swimming. It had also offered a location for fishing bass and other assorted aquatic life.
After soaking up some sun and the view, we had departed to canoe launch area about 1/2 mile down the road. This portion of the park had appeared considerably different but, no less tranquil with the sound of running water. A row of rental canoes had laid securely across aluminum framing near the river. There was one key difference about the Chipola River launch area versus Blue Hole, a sign relating to Florida’s favorite reptile, alligators. Investigating the canoe launch area were signs relating to flood history of the area, plus references to President Andrew Jackson.
After taking some of pictures and video of the Chipola River, the time had come to return to the front of the park for the cavern tour. Of the five state parks in West Florida I had visited, Florida State Caverns Park definitely worthy of the time and gas.
Troy Springs State Park had fell second to last stop on a three day road trip. It had offered a self service payment system with a $5 admission fee. The boardwalk, restrooms and grounds had seemed fairly new providing one of the best experiences in my travels. The waters at the deepest point were 70 feet. The spring run had also contained the remains of the Civil War-era steamboat Madison. Though the boat had not appeared in plain sight on entering the area. Troy Springs had earned the rating of first magnitude spring, 1 of 33 in Florida. That rating had meant a discharge water rate of at least 2800 liters or 100 cubic feet (2.8 m3) of water per second. Due to time restrictions and a touch of exhaustion, my swim time there was brief. I had really fancied the secluded nature of park and lack of activity. If you had travelled close to central Florida, try to work this site in!
Troy Springs State Park address is:
674 Troy Springs Road, Branford, Florida 32008
Enroute to Apalachicola National Forest, I had wanted to visit Wakulla Springs before camping out. In my college days, I had frequented this state park to escape the summer heat of Tallahassee, Florida. The springs had provided a pristine clear blue waters with a two story diving platform.
With dusk approaching, I had parked my vehicle heading quickly to the water’s edge. Two things had become immediately apparent, the lack of foot traffic and clear waters. In difference to Silver Springs, these premises had allowed for swimming and diving. After entering the springs, I had seen the reason for the lack of people. The water had appeared murky with an abundance of algae and other overgrown vegetation. Acquiescing to the state of springs, I had swam over to the two story diving platform. After taking a couple of jumps into the waters, I had headed to shower off reflecting on the current state of world’s largest and deepest fresh water spring. With the glass bottom boat rides, I had thought ,”What a disappointment for a paying customer.” The one bright spot of the visit, I had seen a deer and her two offspring crossing the road on exiting.
A week later, by chance, I had switched over from my AppleTV to viewing regular cable television. Starting on PBS, I had caught the tail end of Florida Crossroads: Protecting Florida’s Liquid Sunshine (Florida Channel). The show had incidentally profiled Wakula Springs’ challenges. Apparently, one of the up stream lakes feeding the area had become a source of populated runoff from Tallahassee. State government had recently moved to better protect this spring through land and water management; However, Wakula Springs had left me recalling the “good ‘ole days.”
Before heading out to to this park, I had suggested calling first for water clarity.
Address: 465 Wakulla Park Drive
Wakulla Springs, Florida 32327
Phone: (850) 561-7276
Hours: 8 AM -sundown, everyday