Our yearly educational retreat, Give Springs A Break (GSAB), which takes place at Ginnie Springs Outdoors and is aimed towards young people, attracted 42 students and young professionals from around the state making it our biggest GSAB event! Funding for our 5th Annual GSAB was provided by First Magnitude Brewing Company. First Magnitude raised nearly $10,000 for the Florida Springs Institute during their 7.2k Springs Run event in January of this year. With endless possibilities, the FSI team set out to make this year the most fun and educational yet!
On Friday afternoon, students poured into the park from out of town to be checked in and set up their campsites. Meanwhile, FSI staff strung our “Springs Keep Our Economy Flowing” banner, which was sure to attract some attention during the weekend. Springs-goers continuously stopped to ask about the event and FSI’s mission.
After setting up camp, Friday-night participants enjoyed pizza donated by Gator Domino’s. We then started the program off with introductions, spoke about what our organization does to protect Florida’s springs, and then watched the springs documentary “Saving Florida’s Springs”, which served as an intro to springs ecology, geology, restoration, and protection. Many of the students at the event were visiting our springs for the first time and were surprised by what they learned during the film.
Saturday began with an impromptu morning swim, bagels provided by Bagel Bakery and coffee from Flagship Coffee Roasters, and a spring-side yoga session with certified yoga instructor, Ellie Pollock, a fellow springs lover and advocate. Ellie guided us through beginner yoga poses while setting our minds at ease. She artfully intertwined a message of environmental conservation into her talk, reminding us all why we were there at GSAB, and thanking students for being mindful of our natural resources and how important they are to protect.
After yoga, the lectures and workshops began! First up was “Springs Biology” with FSI Executive Director, Dr. Bob Knight. Springs Biology is one of Dr. Knight’s favorite classes to teach and this was the students’ first in-depth overview of springs ecosystems during the weekend.
Up next was a “Cave Critters and Cave Exploration” lecture with Tom Morris, biologist and well-known cave diver who has been exploring Florida springs for well over 40 years. Those who’ve seen, heard, or met Tom know he has one or two wild stories and a great sense of humor. There were many gasps and laughs by the crowd followed up by questions like, “What is the craziest thing you’ve seen down there?”, and naturally – a question he said he hears a lot – “How have you made it out alive so many times?”.
For lunch we enjoyed sub sandwiches donated by High Springs Subway before moving on to our final workshops for the day. After providing a few pointers on working with the legislature, FSI Associate Director, Heather Obara, led the students in an interactive demonstration designed to teach them about how to interact with their local and state representatives. Dr. Amanda Concha-Holmes followed up Heather’s presentation with a compelling talk on the powers of visual storytelling through film and then gave students the challenging, yet engaging task of filming their very own short documentary about springs protection on their smartphones. Students were then asked to present their video projects to the whole class. We were absolutely blown away by how creative, impactful, and inspiring their videos were and look forward to doing another activity like this someday soon.
Following the afternoon workshops, several attendees were eager to enjoy the cool refreshing spring water on a hot summer day, while others took off up the road to rent tubes for a float down the Santa Fe River. Once on the river, some students were pleasantly surprised by the temperature difference between the chilly (72°F) spring water and the warm river water.
First Magnitude Brewing Company’s Saltwater Intrusion Gose style beer made an appearance during our river float. We were sure not to trash where we splashed and even picked up a couple cans found along the way.
After we got off the river, students enjoyed a delicious Cuban dinner provided by Mi Apa Latin Café accompanied by a ginger kombucha donated by Wellspring Kombucha. We ended the day huddled around the fire, chatting, and cooking smores until the sun went down.
Much like Saturday, Sunday kicked off with a morning swim, bagels and coffee, and a spring-side yoga session. First up on the agenda was a “Springs Watercolor Painting” workshop with the talented Curtis Whitwam, a well-known Florida nature artist and painter. Curtis walked us through the beginning steps of watercolor painting, while we painted the beautiful waterscape at Dogwood Spring, one of the seven springs surfacing on the Ginnie Springs Outdoors property. All who participated enjoyed this unique and exciting workshop!
Next, we moved into the final lecture of the weekend with Dr. Knight on “Springs Stresses”. During his talk, Dr. Knight discussed groundwater pumping, fertilizers, wastewater disposal, and recreation. He wrapped up his talk by having a down-to-earth chat with students about what must be done to create the change needed to save our springs.
For lunch, we chowed down on specialty subs from the Ginnie Deli while listening to Co-Founder and President of First Magnitude Brewing Company, Christine Denny, talk about the responsibility local business owners all have to conserve their freshwater resources and springs. Following Christine’s motivating talk, it was very clear to the students that all local businesses should be concerned about the future of our water resources in Florida.
While wrapping up the final workshop, Florida’s typical afternoon rain showers began to roll in, but that did not stop us from ending the weekend right with a kayak paddle on the Santa Fe River led by Lars Andersen of Adventure Outpost.
The paddle marked the end of a fun and educational weekend at the springs. As the sun made one last final appearance for the day, a few students decided to hang onto the weekend by staying a couple of more hours to enjoy the springs before departing.
We had an extraordinary event this year and are so thankful to all who attended and made the 5thAnnual Give Springs A Break a big success! Special thanks to our sponsors, First Magnitude Brewing Company, Ginnie Springs, Adventure Outpost, Mi Apa Latin Café, High Springs Subway, Gator Domino’s Pizza, Flagship Coffee Roasters, Wellspring Kombucha, and Bagel Bakery.
We are already looking forward to next year’s event and we hope you are too!
Photos Copyright © Tessa Skiles Photography, All rights reserved.