Santa Fe River – July 12, 2017

A nice, short little paddle for the Florida Trail Association on the springs section of the Santa Fe River.  While set up for newbies with the option of renting a kayak, everyone who showed up for the paddle had their own boat and had spent at least a little time on the water.  The goal today was not miles, but to simply enjoy ourselves in the cooling springs along the Santa Fe as well as introduce folks from other areas in Florida to what the Santa Fe has to offer.

We met up at the River Rise boat ramp on US 27 outside High Springs at 9 am and after unloading and driving most of the cars down to Rum Island County Park 11 of us were on the water before 10 am.

"The Gang" sets off from the US 27 put-in

“The Gang” sets off from the US 27 put-in

Our first stop was at Poe Springs County Park at approximately 2 miles.  We left our kayaks on the rocky ledge at the entrance to the spring run and walked up into the spring to find we had the park all to ourselves.  We spent about 40 minutes playing in the springs and getting to know each other.

Parking at Poe Springs

Parking at Poe Springs

Wading up the Poe Springs run

Wading up the Poe Springs run

Exploring the spring vent at Pow Springs

Exploring the spring vent

Hanging out at Poe Springs

Warming up after cooling down in the spring

Another mile down the river we took a long break to investigate Lily Springs and eat lunch.  The water was a little cloudy in Lily, but not nearly as bad as it had been a month earlier just before the end of the drought.  All the rain we’ve had the last month has flushed out the spring run and the spring cluster at the top is returning to normal.  Plus we are now able to once again paddle up the spring run, rather than beach and walk up.

Lily Springs

Naked Ed’s old shack at Lily Springs

Hanging out at Lily Springs

Hanging out at Lily Springs

Heading down Lily Springs run

Heading down Lily Springs run

For the next mile we paddled slowly, enjoying the sun and had a few wildlife sightings.  A single Swallow-tailed Kite wheeled overhead.  Many turtles were out basking on sunny logs.  One member of the group scared up a young gator hiding in the river-side vegetation.  And I grabbed a picture of a solitary American White Ibis.  The Santa Fe is not really the place to go for wildlife viewing but we usually see a bit during the week.

American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

River Cooters sunning on a log

River Cooters sunning on a log

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus)

Just before the top of Rum Island we stopped at one of my favorite little places of all – Jonathan Spring.  Small and intimate, a spring vent gushes out from under a rocky ledge.  The water is so clear it looks to be only a few inches deep but it will surprise you when you wade in and find it over your waist.

Jonathan Spring vent

Jonathan Spring vent

Jonathan Spring at the Santa Fe

Jonathan Spring at the Santa Fe

From there it was a short distance to the Rum Island County park boat ramp, but we decided to continue on a short distance to look in on Gilchrist Blue Springs.  It was a tough paddle up the spring run, mostly trying to avoid all the tubers and swimmers who invariably move right into your path.  But it’s a bit like a fun slalom course to anticipate their unexpected lunges through the water.  At the top it was too crowded at the private resort to paddle over the spring vent, but at least the group got to see the area to plan for a return trip.  If you put in at Rum Island County Park you can be at Gilchrist Blue Springs early enough in the morning to avoid the mass hoards. (Hint:  Blue Springs Park does not open its gates until 9 am.)  And best of all, Blue Springs Park, after being on the market for many years, has been purchased by the state for incorporation into the state park system.  This transition will occur sometime this winter and the beautiful springs system will be preserved from further development.

Paddling up the Gilchrist Blue Springs run

Paddling up the Gilchrist Blue Springs run

Blue Springs Park, crowded on a typical summer afternoon

The spring vents at Gilchrist Blue Springs

The spring vents at Gilchrist Blue Springs

The clear water of Gilchrist Blue Springs joins the tannin-stained water of the Santa Fe

The clear water of Gilchrist Blue Springs joins the tannin-stained water of the Santa Fe

After winding our way between the swimmers back down to the Santa Fe we paddled back upstream to our takeout at Rum Island County Park.  After completing the shuttle most of us shared an early supper at The Diner in High Springs to rehydrate and replace some of the (few) calories we had burned.