by Dave Wilson with photos by Dagmar Bastiks
On October 17, Tom Morris led 23 adventurers on an enjoyable outing to six exquisite springs near Branford. The stops included Mill Creek Sink (actually near the city of Alachua), Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, Olsen Springs, Running Springs, Cow Springs, Royal Springs, and Little River Springs.
While some members of our group had heard of a few of these gems, most had never visited any of them. Mill Creek Sink is adjacent to the Sonny’s BBQ where Route 441 goes underneath I75 near Alachua, Florida. While you have driven past it 1,000 times, you should check it out some time. It is similar to the Devil’s Millhopper with steep wooden steps leading down to the bottom of the sink. The difference is that a beautiful reflective pool awaits you at the bottom. In one of Tom’s multitude of instant lectures, he remarked that the water in the sink is 190 feet deep. He added that on occasion divers have been stricken with the bends ascending the steps after an extended SCUBA dive. He also reminded us that a memorable scene from Wes Skiles’ movie “Water’s Journey, the Hidden Rivers of Florida” was filmed at Sonny’s when the geekie physics guy, Brian, walked through the salad bar while carrying a device that magnetically track Tom and Jill Heinerth SCUBA diving through the cave 190 feet below. Teenagers love that memorable scene.
On the political side, we also discussed the current conflict between the City of Alachua and Alachua County concerning the rezoning of 154.5 acres on the other side of Route 441. Tom was part of a research team that conducted a dye trace study, where dye placed in the sink reappeared 20 days later in Hornsby Springs (on the Santa Fe River). Thus, an underground conduit transports runoff from nearby commercial developments straight into the spring system along the Santa Fe.
The next spring on the agenda was Wes Skiles Peacock Slough with its unusual rock formations decorating the bottom. While our photographers enjoyed the opportunity to photograph the clear blue water, Tom described the geology of the underground cave system. After a quick side trip to nearby Olsen Springs, we headed off to Running Springs with its clear flowing steam running directly into the Suwannee. Celeste Shitama, owner of the spring, was not only gracious enough to let us enjoy her exquisite property, but also joined us for lunch. Many in our group did not hesitate to enjoy a quick dip. A water snake also joined in the fun as he cruised by one of the swimmers almost unnoticed.
We also walked to Cow Springs, which has a completely different character. While Running Springs is open and clear, Cow is cold, dark, deep, and shaded by an overhang of large trees. Despite all these reasons to avoid this spring, a number of our group plunged in anyway. Celeste captured a wriggling loggerhead musk turtle to show the group.
The day was completed with short stops at Royal Springs and Little River Springs, where some of us chatted with locals about various threats to the springs (e.g. a new chicken farm nearby) while others continued to enjoy Tom’s lectures on the flora, geology, and hydrology of the area. Tom pointed out a honey locust tree at Little River with oversized thorns along the trunk. While serving no purpose today, he conjectured that these thorns discouraged Pleistocene mammals from eating the foliage. At Little River we were also greeted by a drone hovering over our heads and a jet-ski roaring up the Suwannee. Despite these minor disturbances, we all had a great day at the springs.
FSI will host its next outing to the Harvey Sharron Bat Cave Field Laboratory on November 7th. Registration is open to 12 springs enthusiasts for $20 each ($10 for students). On this outing you will the importance of caves to the Floridan aquifer system. Click here to register today!