Wednesday March 25, 2015
O’Leno State Park
High Springs, Florida
There are more than 36 springs on the Santa Fe down river from the River Rise. We are going to visit 3 of them today as we kayak from Rum Island, which has a spring, up to Poe Springs.
We drive over to Rum Island County Park which is on the Santa Fe about 12 miles from O’Leno. It is a free park, no frills with a nice natural boat launch.
When we arrive we find a passel of 11 yellow double kayaks all around the kayak launch. Seems the outdoor club at West Virginia University has sent the kayaks and 22 students down to paddle the rivers in northern Florida for their Spring Break. They are a very noisy bunch and their team hadn’t even gotten humiliated by Kentucky in the NCAA yet.
Luck was with us and they were floating downstream as does nearly everyone. We were launching from here to go upstream so we never saw their flotilla on the river thankfully. We manage to wade through they kayaks and get launched into the river. I should have taken a picture of them as we waded through but I had a kayak in my hand. I do love the no frills kayak launch here. There is a paved power boat launch on the other side but we didn’t see anyone using it either time we were here.
Up stream we go on a sunny blue sky day. The word has gotten out and the turtles are piled up along the way. Look at the size of some of those feet.
All together now, heads up, feet up!
Look Mom, No hands!
We paddle up the right side under tree branches leaning way out for the sun.
It becomes a game. How low can you go?
Turns out to be a tie, his boat sits lower in the water than mine but I’m shorter in the cockpit.
The skies are so blue, they look painted.
About halfway to Poe Springs we come to Lily Springs which is famous in some circles and infamous in others. Most of the springs along the Santa Fe are public but some are privately owned. We have passed two private ones so far and this is the third. But this one is open to the public IF they are willing to take a chance on seeing Naked Ed.
John Edward Watts has some signs up on the spring run.
The yellow caution sign warns “Naked Ed Ahead”. We knew nothing about Naked Ed before turning in to see the spring but obviously others did. There are two kayaks and a canoe coming out the narrow run when we come in but while there we don’t see anyone else.
At the top of the short spring run and just off to the side are Ed’s buildings. Ed doesn’t seem to be around so we don’t get to meet him. I did some research on him for this post and all of the things I found with pictures of him and his house were from the early 2000’s and showed a palm frond roof building at the back of the dock. It looked nothing like this so I’m wondering if Ed is still there. I learned he was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease which made it impossible for him to work. He has been caretaker of this spring for 30 years after finding it completely trashed and bartering with the owner to clean it up and protect it for the right to live there.
The spring area is very clean. There are benches and tables around so clearly people do stop and stay and swim. If it were later in the day we might well have had lunch here.
We turn around and float back down with the spring surge. I snap another picture of Ed’s structures from a different angle. The frond roofed home was to the left of the dock but there is no sign of it. Only a box like structure back away from the water front. Earlier pictures of Ed’s compound also show steps into the water which are also no longer there OR the water is so much higher that they are under water now. Not having seen the pictures at the time of our paddle, I didn’t know to look.
The following pictures were taken as the spring sent me down its lovely run. Not sure I’m sorry we missed Ed though it would have made for a better story no doubt.
Back to the river and on upstream.
No problem getting under this one.
Hey guys, move up!
We arrive at the Poe spring run to find it closed. What are the chances that we would pick the one day they are doing a water flow test training? Can you see the tape across the run to keep kayaks and canoes out?
So we pull up at the end and David volunteers to go scout things out.
Deeper than he thought. Glad I didn’t go, it would have been up to my waist. Although since we are both wearing bathing suits it wouldn’t really matter.
The swift current makes the going a little tricky.
Actually David said he wasn’t sure we could have made the turn against the spring’s current from the right side of the river and might have had to go over to the other side to make a straight run in. We later see that the rocks are barely under the water just beyond the rope strung up for the training. Would have been interesting to see if we could have made it.
He comes back a little further out of the flow but it doesn’t make it less tricky
After being told we can swim in the spring we decide to get all our stuff out of the kayaks and leave them beached and walk across the spring run and then up to the spring.
What we find is the result of relatively new construction. From December 2011 to July 3, 2013 the spring and park were closed to add this new retaining wall and steps into the water. Looks like grandstand bleachers to me. Sort of a compromise between a serious swimming pool look on the upper end and sides left natural.
We were told that the training was almost at its end so we take off down the boardwalk to see where it goes.
The answer is to the other side of the park where there are tons of picnic tables, ball diamonds and other sports sorts of things. Also the power boat ramp is there. But there are no people. Not a soul. We head back. We later learn that this large park and all its facilities are only open Thursday through Sunday. Otherwise access is only by water.
By the time we get back, the ropes blocking off the run are gone and the 11 cars are packing up. Some have already pulled out. Time for a swim before lunch.
The photographs of our swim in the spring from a distance unfortunately have some sort of sunlight line going through them. It clearly wasn’t operator error since it happened when each of us was using the camera at different times. I’m putting them in anyway since I want to remember the big picture not just the close ups.
Time for lunch. We think we might use the picnic table just behind David but the steps are nicer, being closer to the water.
We walk back down the run to pick up the kayaks for our float back down river.
Another really beautiful day on the water.
More piles of turtles.
What a lazy way to drift along going forwards, backwards or sideways. We see only one or two other boats on the river. Most of the time we have it all to ourselves.
And then I see a large bird with a wide white tail fly in from behind me and land on the far river bank. My camera tells me my guess is correct. It’s a bald eagle. Right there on the river bank ahead of me. I’m drifting by a bald eagle.
He doesn’t fly away. He just stays there. Looking around I guess and doing whatever bald eagles do when they are on the ground. I get many many pictures of him. Look at those feathers. Look at those eyes.
I’m drifting past when my kayak turns me around and what do I see but a second eagle flying in to join him. By this point my smile is about to break my face.
What a LUCKY day to be at the exact right place at the exact right time to watch these two.
Lazy river or not, it eventually takes me around a bend and beyond where those two are still on the bank as I catch my last sight of them. Time to turn the kayak back around pointing down the river.
Looks like the king of the mountain has a used turtle sales lot here.
This must be an area of mid river springs with all the boiling and the strong water flow. This was the only point coming up river where we had to dig in to make headway. It’s fun going back through it now.
Just before we reach the put in at Rum Island Park we paddle around the actual Rum Island. Very small and an easy swim from the park although it’s pretty heavily wooded so I’m not sure what you would do there except perhaps fish.
The take out is totally clear. Nothing blocking the way now. We put the kayaks on the car and walk over to see the springs. It’s late, we are hungry and don’t take time for a swim but others are clearly enjoying it.
I actually like the more natural feel of this spring with its wooden boardwalks and fewer steps. The spring is just off the river and has no spring run. You can see where the dark waters of the river make a line of demarcation from the blue waters of the spring.
The banks are protected, but left natural. Also unlike Poe Springs this much smaller park is open all the time. Different counties on one side of the river than on the other. Different rules. Different styles.
This area has even more paddling possibilities but we are running out of days and rain is predicted. Guess that leaves us with more reasons to return to O’Leno.