Despite chilly breezes and overcast skies, Tom Morris led 29 outings enthusiasts through the karst region surrounding Suwannee River State Park. To start the trip, Tom used samples to explain the differences between Ocala limestone, Suwannee limestone, and chert. Limestone is calcium carbonate or CaCO3; the Ocala Limestone is soft and crumbles in your hand; the Suwannee Limestone is hard; while chert is silica dioxide with formula SIO2.
He also brought along a fossilized mastodon rib bone and his pet cave crayfish. Before heading to the trail, Tom took us by a pole marked with the peak flood levels of the Suwannee during the past 70 years. The year 1948 tops them all. The first stop along the three mile loop trail was Lime Creek Run, which was dry despite the Irma flood.
Lime Sink Run
The next stop was Little Gem Springs, a small but charming spring bubbling into the Suwannee. We all agreed this beauty deserved its name.
Little Gem Spring, Suwannee River State Park
Along the path to Lime Sink, Tom identified blue beach, pignut hickory, sparkleberry as well as a multitude of other flora. Lime Creek Spring provided a quiet setting before heading back to the parking lot for lunch, where some sprinted off to check out the Withlacoochee convergence.
Lime Sink, Suwannee River State Park
After lunch we headed to Falmouth Springs two miles East on Route 90. The water in this spring flows underground to Lime Sink and Little Gem. As a SCUBA diver, Tom also let us know that divers had explored more than 5 miles of underground passageways from Falmouth. It is mind blowing to think people could (or would) accomplish such a feat.
The next stop was Withlacoochee Rapids, where only Tom knew how to find the place in this off road ramble. The view of the rapids was spectacular. A number of us are ready to paddle it soon.
Withlacoochee River Rapids
The final stop was the magnificent Madison Blue Springs, where despite the chill several brave souls jumped in for a quick dip.
Madison Blue Springs, Withlacoochee River
While we all enjoyed a beautiful day at a park seldom visited, we should also mention that the park is threatened by nitrate pollution from the nearby chicken processing factory and other agricultural operations. A recently settled consent order has forced effluent limitations on concentrations of total nitrogen, which is a step in the right direction. While we hope to preserve this beautiful wonder, we have a wait and see attitude.
(Photo by John Moran) A local farm pumping contaminants directly into the Suwannee River
In summary, the outing was fun, educational, and introduced us to parts of Florida we never knew existed. Many members of the group are ready for new adventures.
A hike up the Alapaha River is first on the list. See you on the river!
Written by Dave Wilson, Florida Springs Institute Board Member 11/14/17