There are at least three—probably more—springs within Florida known as "Blue Springs", so when one speaks of one of them, it helps to ask its county or location to be certain which they mean. The one nearest to Gainesviille is Blue Springs on the Santa Fe River just west of High Springs across the county line in Gilchrist County. This is a private venture as opposed to a state or other park, and offers camping plus canoe/kayak rentals and swimming in the beautiful springs. The main spring is a second-magnitude spring with a depth of around 24 feet at its deepest. As I have a friend with a boat who lives on the Santa Fe a bit further west, I am often around Blue Springs, Ginnie Springs (which is another private campground) and Poe Springs (a public park of Alachua County). The Santa Fe flows westward and finally meets up with the Suwannee River near Wanamake. Therefore, you can take a boat from the Santa Fe on into the Suwannee and head either south towards Fanning Springs and finally the town of Suwannee and the Gulf itself or northward towards Branford.
People returning down the spring run from the Santa Fe with a kayak.
Ginnie Springs is very well-known for its cave diving and Blue Springs also offers a clear, pristine, and decently deep spring to explore. A diving platform was built above the deepest part of the spring which makes it really popular with kids, too. The spring run northward to the Santa Fe is shallow but possible to navigate with a canone or kayak. There's a long boardwalk along the spring run all the way to the river which allows great picture-taking and chances to see wildlife at times. Also, there are several other, smaller, springs in the park: Little Blue Springs, Naked Springs, and Johnson Springs.
The spring run from Blue Springs headed north to the Santa Fe River.
I will write more in a later post on the ecology and geology of Florida's springs and the karst system that allows them to exist, but for now I want to focus more on the benefits of our springs for recreation and tourism. The counties of Suwannee, Columbia, Lafayette, Gilchrist, and Alachua draw a lot of tourists because have springs as do Marion and Lake counties south of us via the springs in the Ocala National Forest. Cave diving has become a big draw for these springs and has increased the economies of towns like High Springs even though it's an activity that only certified divers can partake in and thus not as common a use of the springs as swimming or kayaking. That said, cave divers often come from afar and thus stay in hotels, inns and motels while visiting.
As seen in the photo above, kids really enjoy the springs and they also learn a health respect for nature in visiting them. To continue to have these great natural resources, we seriously need to watch how we use water in Florida: how much we take out and what condition it is in when it returns as wastewater or run-off from our homes and farms. The water levels at our local springs in the Gainesville area are down due to a lack of rain from as far back as Fall of 2010 and the increased use of water, including drawing water directly from the Santa Fe River in some instances. Recent rain this summer may help the situation, but it's still clearly disturbing. The Gainesville Sun ran an interesting and informative article on this problem recently which is availible here: Water Levels Down on the Suwannee River.
Santa Fe River just west of Blue Springs.
For rivers like the Santa Fe to remain navigable, we need ample water, as do we for the general health of the springs and populations of plant and animal life they support. Some springs I've visited this summer appear in poor condition: Fanning Springs, for instance, while still lovely and clear is very low in some parts of its spring pool to the point it's only knee-deep in places. Royal Springs, a less-known location that is a Suwannee County public park on the Suwannee River is in even worse shape: when I visited it in May of this year, it appeared to have no flow whatsoever and had turned murky and warm like pond water. This can happen when the amount of water flowing from the aquifer into the spring is too low. As the rains seem to be back to their normal Florida summertime patterns, let us hope our springs will see better health. If you've never visited any of our diverse springs, well, you should because you're in for a treat.