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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.