This year’s Give Springs A Break (GSAB) event was held at Gissy Springs on the Rainbow River in Dunnellon, FL. Every year, FSI aims to educate young people about Florida’s springs through the GSAB program. With the support of First Magnitude Brewing Company, we were able to plan another home run event, attracting over 50 college students and young professionals from all over the state.
GSAB participants spent four days and three nights camping at the springs. Mornings were designated for breakfast and lectures at the Rainbow River Golf & Country Club. This year, we had more speakers than in past years. To start the weekend off right we took our time getting to know one another before lectures began. We were humbled and inspired seeing such a large number of young faces in one room, eager to learn about springs conservation. Most students heard about the event from social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. At least a dozen students were friends of FSI staff or volunteers, and having heard about the event, they were curious about what they could do to help save our springs.
The first portion of the program focused on springs science and included an intro to the springs by hydrogeologist and professor, Dr. Jim Gross. Next was a springs ecology presentation by our very own Executive Director, Dr. Bob Knight. We wrapped up lectures around 5pm with a fun, spooky talk about cave biology with larger-than-life diver and biologist, Tom Morris.
On Friday we continued learning about springs science by welcoming Dr. Knight back to discuss springs biology. Next up was water chemist, Lisa Saupp, who kept the crowd engaged and laughing almost all the way through. In the bottom left photo, Lisa uses staff (L-R Tessa Skiles, Dr. Knight, and Heather Obara) to represent the atomic bond found in a single molecule of water – Tessa and Heather being the two positive hydrogen atoms and Dr. Knight being the single oxygen atom with a negative charge. Lisa emphasized the amazing properties of water by showing how each atom relies on one another to balance each other out. In the bottom right photo, Lisa exhibits the natural process of erosion to our karst aquifers by using an acid to dissolve limestone rock.
Once we felt our students had a strong understanding of springs, we introduced them to our research. Florida Springs Institute GIS analysts, Angeline Meeks and Haley Moody, taught students how to use the Florida Springs Institute’s Blue Water Audit tool. On Friday afternoon, we dove into springs management. We invited Florida Springs Council’s Executive Director, Ryan Smart, to cover water management and policy. Ryan packed five decades of Florida history and water management into one presentation. Many of us know the political controversies that have taken place over that time period, but most of it was news to our students. Most were left with one question in mind: What can we do to fix this?
Next, we covered wildlife management with Lindsey Kelly. Lindsey mainly studies manatee’s and their habitat but gave compelling arguments for protecting all of the unique wildlife that call the springs their “home”. As we learned throughout the weekend, springs are delicate ecosystems in which all flora and fauna depend on one another’s health to thrive. After the early afternoon lectures, we returned to Gissy Springs to learn how FSI scientists collect water quality data. The workshop was led by FSI environmental scientists Hillary Skowronski and Nicole Pollio.
We wrapped up Friday’s programming with a talk by our main event sponsor, First Magnitude Brewing Company, represented by owners Christine and John Denny. The talk was titled “Corporate Environmental Responsibility”, a topic First Magnitude knows all about! We listened to Christine and John’s talk over a delightful beer dinner. John and Christine’s insight was invaluable to the young crowd. They’re setting the bar for other businesses to take their environmental footprints seriously and their model for sustainability and community support is proving to be good for their bottom line as well as the planet.
Saturday was our final day of lectures and we brought the program to a close with lessons on springs advocacy techniques. Florida Springs Institute’s Media Director, Tessa Skiles, set the tone for the day by introducing us to what springs advocacy looks like in the community. Tessa shared her experience as a fellow springs conservationist, taught students how to wield their newfound knowledge and where to focus their efforts on.
Senator Dennis Jones was one of our final presenters of the weekend. Senator Jones has a collective 32 years of experience in politics as a Florida State Senator and his insight into the legislature was very enlightening. Senator Jones started by giving a brief overview of what it takes to have a bill adopted. Then he effortlessly removed the intimidating veil that surrounds our federal and state political process, a much-needed lesson for this group. Florida Springs Institute’s Associate Director, Heather Obara, took the stage with Dennis to review feasible solutions, then walked students through a legislative skill workshop. The workshop asked students to reenact how to approach a representative, get their attention, and communicate their concerns effectively.
Throughout the weekend we also held creative skill workshops for students to pick and choose from. On Thursday, we learned how to sketch in the field with wildlife artist, Kelly Quinn. On Friday afternoon, students took a watercolor painting course with Florida artist, Curtis Whitwam. Then they learned about the basics of freediving with David Cobiella of Master Switch Freediving and Kings of the Springs. Stand up paddleboard yoga was offered by Cara Edwards of Cypress SUP throughout the weekend. On Saturday, the whole group paddled the Rainbow River from KP Hole to Swampy’s Restaurant and then enjoyed a riverside dinner at Swampy’s. We wrapped up the event Sunday by doing some real-life spring hunting. Student’s followed Tessa Skiles far into the woods to uncover an untouched spring in the Rainbow springshed.
It’s not news that appealing to the younger crowd can be a difficult task, but with equal parts education and time to relax/explore, a top notch venue, and affordable cost, we seem to have hit the “sweet spot” with GSAB. With the exception of rain, the weekend went very smoothly – all thanks to our staff, volunteers, and wonderful donors: First Magnitude Brewing Company, Jim Gissy, Flagship Coffee Roasters, Rainbow River Golf & Country Club, and Turnpike Mike’s Restaurant.
We’re still receiving photos and thank you notes from our students. What was it about this year that made it so special? Was it the students, the spring, the environment, or the cause? We think it was a mix of everything! We continue to feel inspired by all of the young, intelligent, and passionate minds that attended this year’s event. It was a weekend that will keep on giving for generations to come. We look forward to next year, but for now we’re in full planning mode, preparing for our next educational retreat: Springs Field School.