(Continued from last Sunday, July 30th post – St. Augustine and Fort Castillo de San Marcos.)
Day 6, Tuesday, July 18th: My guests and I set out for Manatee Springs. I had never heard of this particular spring until a couple of weeks before our visit. Apparently Florida has far more springs than I realized, and I am hoping to visit more of them in the future. Their clear, cold water is so refreshing during the summer heat, and the underwater vegetation, fish, rocks, and crevices make for fun snorkeling. Some of the springs are also deep enough for scuba diving. I don’t have a divers certification, but I’ve certainly been tempted to get one after visiting a few of these beautiful places.
Manatee Springs was given its name by a man named William Bartram, who came across the spring during his travels in 1774. He found a manatee carcass on the shore near the spring run, hence the name Manatee Springs. Of course, the spring’s history is much older than that. Artifacts discovered close to the area indicate that Native Americans used Manatee Springs as a source for food long before Europeans arrived in North America. One of the Seminole Nation’s first significant towns, Boleck’s town, stood about eight miles away from the spring where Old Town, Florida is located today. During the Seminole Wars, (occurring between 1816 and 1858), Boleck’s town was attacked by U.S. troops under Major General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of Old Town. As a result of the wars, many of the Seminoles were killed or forced out of Florida. The area around the springs was then used by farmers and settlers. In 1954, the family who owned Manatee Springs sold it to the state, making it the first spring in Florida to become a state park.
Besides swimming and scuba diving activities, the park also has picnic tables, camping facilities, hiking, and a boardwalk that follows the spring run out to the Suwannee River. Hernando de Soto is thought to have crossed said river near the springs on his trek across Florida in 1539. While tracing his route, I couldn’t help but wonder if de Soto saw any manatees, but this is unlikely as he would have crossed the Suwannee during the hotter months of the year. The West Indian Manatees are more likely to be seen in the spring and river during the winter months, when they take advantage of the consistent water temperature to escape the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Between December 1st and March 30th, swimmers, canoeists, and kayakers are prohibited from using the area in order to protect the manatees, but you can still go for a stroll along the spring run and out to the river to try to catch a glimpse of the friendly creatures.
My guests and I decided to walk out to the Suwannee first and then go swimming in the spring after, as we assumed the cold water would be most satisfying once we were feeling warm from the heat.
The elevated boardwalk is surrounded by gum, cypress, ash, and maple trees, and there are small walkways jutting out from the boardwalk over the spring so that visitors can get a better look at the crystal clear water.
On reaching the river, I kept an eye out for jumping Gulf sturgeon, which migrate to the Suwannee River during the summer months.
We headed back down the boardwalk, ready to enjoy a swim in the spring. Manatee Springs produces about 100 million gallons of fresh water daily and has a depth of 25 feet, with an underwater cave that is available to scuba divers. The cave system has about 26,000 feet of mapped passageways, making it one of the largest cave systems in North America. My guests and I simply possessed goggles, so we observed what we could from fairly close to the surface.
After we had been there for about an hour, a woman swimming nearby located a snake which looked similar to a water moccasin and decided to start poking it with a stick. At that point, we decided it was in our best interests to vacate the area for the day.
I enjoyed our visit to Manatee Springs, and would like to return in the winter months in order to see the manatees.
Next week I’ll be sharing a review of Ichetucknee Springs. 🙂
For more information, feel free to visit the links below.