Today is the Spring Equinox, the first day of spring and even though Florida doesn’t really have a spring season or at least not one like I’m used to in the mid-atlantic. Still it is Spring Equinox and that means a day of celebration for us. The planet that gives us life is still turning and making its way around the sun. We are grateful for that and for all it does for us including the beauty that we are on the road enjoying.
Since a vivid childhood memory of mine is now part of the state park, we’ll make some more memories there today.
Silver Springs was founded in 1852. It is the largest artesian spring in the world and Florida’s oldest Tourist Attraction. It had fallen on hard times when the state of Florida purchased the Silver Springs attraction with its glass bottom boats in 2013 and combined it with the State Park across the river. This is very good news for the protection of the spring and for us. Now our campsite pass will get us into the Silver Springs attraction as well as the campground and day use area.
This week-end is the Florida Spring Fest at the attraction side of the park both Saturday and Sunday. This is a celebration of Florida’s Springs. Many of the Florida state parks with springs are celebrating it. There is lots of information about the springs, about the importance of eliminating pesticides and fertilizers from our yards as the run off goes directly into the Florida Aquifer which provides all of Florida’s drinking water and from which the springs come. Lots of booths and information and educational opportunities. A great thing to do on Spring Equinox, celebrate the Springs and educate the people.
Unfortunately, not all of the information is on a happy note since the springs in Florida are now endangered. Fish are no longer abundant at the springs, aquatic plants are covered by algae. Nitrates in the spring water, much of it from fertilizer spread on farms and lawns, promotes the growth of algae which eventually kills the plants.
A dozen years ago, alarm over the decline of Florida's springs drew the attention of political leaders in Tallahassee. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush launched an initiative to save the 1,000-plus springs throughout the state. That program was defunded last year by Florida's current governor, Rick Scott.
Still there is some good news. To improve the water quality of the springs, Florida regulators have set targets for reducing the amount of nitrates. Hitting those targets, though, will mean addressing the sources of pollution, putting thousands of septic tanks on public sewer systems, and aggressively reducing the amount of fertilizer used by homeowners and farmers. There are huge cattle ranches in central Florida. It’s a massive undertaking that could take decades. We have to hope it isn’t too late.
There are lots of fun parts of this celebration. They have special exhibits on the various movies and TV shows made here including the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller, the Sea Hunt TV Series with Lloyd Bridges, Esther Williams specials and others. There will be scuba divers in the springs today in retro gear reenacting some Sea Hunt scenes.
Speaking of Lloyd Bridges. Here he is. Hey there Lloyd, lookin’ good.
Lots of tables are set up with art work, springs information, games and crafts
Inside the education center, there is also an exhibit of photography by Bruce Mozert and others from the era of Paradise Park which was the “colored” Silver Springs.
Apparently it was the nicest “separate but equal” park in the country with its pavillion with a dance floor and a juke box, its own white sand beach on the river, its own glass bottom boats and no admission charge except if you wanted a boat ride. It operated from 1949 to 1969 when it closed as a result of integration.
The pictures are on loan from a larger exhibit currently at the Appleton Art Museum in Ocala. There they have 100 photographs taken by Silver Springs staff photographer Bruce Mozert. It’s an $8 admission fee but after seeing these few, I’d sure love to see the full exhibit.
Paradise Park is no more. It was completely dismanteled and the road in to it is now gated though there is this plaque at the entrance to the road. I wonder why they dismanteled such a full facility rather than just opening it to the public in the same way Silver Springs was open. Two facilities would bring in all the more people. The buildings would probably be on the National Register of Historic places if they hadn’t raised them.
We kayaked the river the last time we were here and I don’t remember seeing any sandy beach for swimming anywhere along the river. A whole history erased
Bruce certainly had the girls posing didn’t he?
Among other historic information in the education center are these old advertising brochures that I clearly remember from my childhood. The bathing suits are fun.
Here’s Esther Williams being interviewed by Arlene Francis when Williams was filming here in 1955. How about the bathing cap? Anyone remember those?
Tarzan’s jungle was here in Silver Springs in the 30’s and 40’s when Johnny Weissmuller was Tarzan.
Lots of fun looking at the old memorabilia.
Back outside and down the walk way are both a restaurant and an ice cream shop. The latter does not tempt us since it isn’t Brusters.
Looking out on the grounds and the paths through them we see what looks like it might be a pick up jam session. Music by the spring sounds lovely. There is one music performance area on the schedule we saw. It is along the outdoor seating at the side of the spring.
On our way in today we stopped by the booth where they were giving away free glass bottom boat rides to the first 1000 people to arrive. Sweet – the normal fee is $11.00. We scheduled our ride for later in the afternoon so we could walk around and see the exhibits and the grounds first. So we walk on by the open air boat dock and see the wine table where you can buy an adult beverage and stroll the grounds while consuming. That’s the boat dock in the back.
On along the main path we can look back at the boat landing and see the glass bottom boats coming and going.
The free rides have brought out people in much bigger numbers than on a normal day I’m told. Perhaps we’ll come back on a “normal day” and see what the traffic is.
Just in front of us is a dive flag indicating that the reenactors of the Sea Hunt series are there. Today’s glass bottom boats are seeing something not usually available at other times.
The musicians are playing along the boardwalk on this same side of the springs. There are very nice comfy chairs as well as wooden rocking chairs for people to sit and relax under the roof to get out of the sun and listen to the music.
It is early yet for the profusion of blooms for which Silver Springs is known. But here are some of what we see as we stroll the grounds.
For some reason when I see this Shrimp Plant I start singing Shrimp Boats Are a Comin’ and now I can’t get it out of my head.
I’d love to smell the wysteria that will cover this arbor in months to come.
Anhingas are everywhere in Florida it seems including in the trees of Silver Springs. Later in the day I learn why there are many of them here.
There is no shortage of big trees either.
I look pretty small next to this leaning tower.
On our way back to get our boat ride we come upon another wedding being set up. It will overlook the spring and Chief Osceola will over look it.
Osceola is probably the most famous Seminole Indian. In October of 1834 the Seminole Indians met in council at these springs to discuss the demands of the United States for their removal to the west. With his elegant oratory, Osceola swayed the council against removal and this was the real beginning of the Seminole Wars of 1835-1842. He became a military genius and strategist. He was captured by deception and died at Fort Moultrie in Charleston in January of 1838.
And although the Seminoles never surrendered and Jackson’s troops pretty much gave up, in less than 20 years this same sacred Native place was opened as a tourist attraction.
The wedding will overlook this interesting palm tree which has grown from the tree root on the far left down almost to the water and curled back up, through the platform rails and over the trunk. Lots of people step inside the trunk and have their picture taken.
Back at the dock, people are lined up for the glass bottom boats.
The boats look just like I remember them. Seats all the way around. Everyone has a great view through the glass.
Lots of kids on our boat who are very noisy and paying no attention to the captain’s efforts to tell us about the springs and what we are seeing. Their parents exert no influence on them at all.
What in the world happened to consideration for others? My mother would never have permitted such behavior. But then we would never have dared behave that way either.
We see a lot of sea grass. I guess this is what manatees like. I wonder if they ever come up here to munch on it with the boats going back and forth.
We see very few fish. My memories are that we saw amazing colors of fish and lots of them. But then those memories are of long ago and who knows how enhanced time has made them.
I’m barely able to hear Captain Roosevelt tell us about the gator on the bank.
Or the Anhinga rookery in the trees on an island we motor around. Just a note: The boats have electric motors which do not pollute the spring waters.
As the last “stop” on our tour, we glide around the diver’s flag and there are the sea hunt retro gear reenactors.
True to form, there are bad guys and weapons.
We see them take aim and fire. The kids love it.
Our Captain, Roosevelt, has been giving tours for 60 years this month. SIXTY YEARS!! That means he was giving tours at Paradise Park. I’d love to talk to him about that but he has a schedule and another tour. When I stay behind for a moment to apologize for the inconsiderate behavior of the children and their parents he laughs and says “that’s how it is these days”. He says he thinks it might be time to retire.
He guides us right back to our dock after 4 times asking the man in the back to sit his son down. All of Silver Springs boat captains are licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard so we know we are in good hands.
After disembarking we see some of the reenactors and their retro gear getting out of the water. Those are old tanks all right and they sure look heavy.
We’re leaving the boat area and heading back to the entrance when we pass the happy bridal party.
It’s a really wonderful happenstance that we are at Silver Springs for Spring Equinox and that they are having The Spring Fest. It’s been great to celebrate Florida’s FABULOUS springs. There are a lot of them as you can see in this map. Our second winter in Florida, I set out to try to swim in every one. I haven’t made them all yet but I’ve done quite a few. Some of course, like Silver Springs, do not allow swimming in the spring.
But our party is not finished yet. It’s time to amp up the celebration to include ice cream at Bruster’s. When we arrive, sadly they do not have Jamaica Me Crazy. I order coconut chip and Peanut Butter Crunch. David has penaut butter crunch and White Raspberry truffle. They are all delicious. But nothing compares to Jamaica Me Crazy. I ask if they will have JMC soon. The girl at the counter says she’ll ask him to make it so if we come back next week it will be here. Now how great is that!!! You bet we’ll be here.
So our celebration of this special day continues with two BIG scoops in a waffle cone. Sure wish Bill and Nancy were here to celebrate with us. Last time we were at this Bruster’s was with them in January of 2012 for David’s birthday. That’s when he discovered JMC and it’s been our favorite flavor of any at any ice cream shop anywhere ever since.
It may not be JMC but it’s still Bruster’s, the best ice cream there is!!
No Spring Equinox would be complete without fresh spring flowers. Except that spring flowers are difficult to find in Florida. I’m thinking tulips and daffodils but they have a mum thing and roses so we take what we can get.
They are still lovely and the roses smell wonderful. They bring the beauty of the natural world inside on this day as the eternal orbiting continues. Hope you did something to celebrate too. It’s the only planet we have and an amazing one.