Olivia had the day off of school for Presidents' Day, so I took my own day off and spent the day with my little girl. The Boys had to work, and I knew just what do for our day together. While I listed Blue Spring State Park...which is only about a mile from our home...as our first official state park, I never took the time to showcase what makes it so special. And so, Olivia and I spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around, taking pictures, and getting to know our nearest state park. I must say, it is one of my favorites as well!
We wandered into the gift shop, which was a first for me! On the wall was this beautiful portrait of a manatee family. You see, that's one thing that makes Blue Spring so special. In cold weather, manatees come in droves to frolic in the warm waters of the headspring and spring run. And I love manatees!
Right outside the gift shop is the Blue Spring Trail, which is a boardwalk that meanders all the way to the headspring. A few photos:
When our weather is coldest and the manatees are in the spring run, the swimming area (read: from the headspring all the way down to the St. Johns River) is closed. After the first of March, however, the run fills with swimmers, SCUBA divers, cave divers, floaters, sunworshippers...yeah, it gets pretty packed. Mind you, this is still wild Florida, and there are several varieties of fish, turtles, birds, and yes...alligators, that call the run home.
We continued down the boardwalk until we got to the headspring:
If you look around the boil you'll see lots of fish. They would occasionally surface and then dart back down to their resting spots on the bottom. I believe this is one of the invasive types of fish that has become a nuisance to the manatees. They're similar to the plecostomus catfish, only instead of eating the algae off your fish tank, they try to eat it off the skin of the manatees. While it would seem like a symbiotic relationship, unfortunately the fish leave marks on the manatees similar to bee stings. Not cool. So, scientists and students from the local university are working on a way to eradicate this fish.
I just wish I could remember what it's called!
Every time I see the root in this next picture, I'm reminded of a snake:
After we left the headspring we returned to the gift shop area, and then walked down the other direction on the trail. There are a couple of observation decks set up to make manatee viewing easier for the crowds that come out to see them. Here are a few pictures:
Pretty soon someone pointed out an alligator! I was small, only 4 feet or so, and seemed really content sunning itself on a tree. There is a turtle nearby as well:
At this point I'm sure you're wondering where the manatees are, right? The truth is, the end of February this year meant warm weather for us, with temperatures close to 80 degrees. The warm weather sends the manatees out into open water instead of the constant 72 degrees of the spring, so there weren't many to be seen. This guy was there, though:
He's trailing around a radio transmitter, and scientists track movements and learn a lot about manatees this way.
So, we saw this one manatee on this particular day. On very cold days they number into the 300s, and I've heard as many as 500 in this tiny little area! We stopped by a few months ago, and here's what that looks like:
Some poor soul lost his hat in a gust of wind, and it flew down into the water:
This ranger and her 'grabber' came to the rescue!
We walked all the way down to the end of the boardwalk, which is something I had never done before. There's a place to rent kayaks and canoes, plus a few historic markers telling about the area.
It's also a beautiful spot for a photo:
In this picture there are 4 different animals, with a 5th hidden behind a tree. Can you see them?
There is a cormorant (the black bird just right of center, in the water), a manatee (the white radio transmitter in the water), a Great Blue Heron (directly above the manatee on the bank), an alligator (on the palm tree), and the turtle is hidden by the palm fronds.
This is from the end of the spring run (St. Johns River) looking up toward the headspring:
Olivia was such a great kid this particular day, and a visit to the playground was in order:
Finally we headed up the hill to take a walk around the Thursby House:
Our day ended in relaxation, enjoying the rocking chairs on the front porch of the house. We were shaded from the afternoon sun by the huge oak tree in the yard, and things couldn't have been better. We took the time to get to know our most local state park in many new ways. It reminded me not to take anything for granted, you know?