Thursday, April 17, 2014

Florida's springs

I suppose when most people think of Florida's natural beauty, the powdered-sugar Gulf coast beaches or palms swaying in the Keys are what come to mind. But the state's inland freshwater springs are a real contender. The State, in its wisdom (?!), has been acquiring many of these great gushers and commissioning them as state parks--in a number of cases buying out defunct tourist resorts that were driven under by Disney or just changing tastes. A great example is Silver Springs, in Ocala. This venerable tourist destination (indeed, Florida's first tourist attraction, according to Wikipedia) was the home to a well-known fleet of glass-bottom boats that plied the spring and the Silver River, which runs for just five miles from the spring before emptying into the lovely Ocklawaha. After the state bought the attraction, it continued to operate as a concessionaire with the boats and a small zoo, until just last year.

The glass bottom boats still run. When I visited last weekend with my parents, we elected not to take one of those rides, but walked around the tranquil, grassy grounds. The zoo is being dismantled, at the expense of the former owners, but it was a day off and the place was peaceful, just starting to fill with strolling families and a small stream of customers for the boat rides. The tourist center, set back from the boat dock and arranged in an arc that echoes the spring's pool, was designed by Victor Lundy in the 1950s; it is a wonderful piece of understated postwar modernism that fits its surroundings perfectly and won an AIA merit award. Here's a picture from the June 1959 issue of Florida Architect:

The water that flows from the spring is really clear. In fact, "clear" does not do it justice. Underwater photographers often staged whimsical scenes to give a better idea of the clarity. Here's one:

(Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

I took some pictures with my phone, but I failed to capture the watery color and play of the light. I did get up close and personal to this fine leathery person. She or he has probably witnessed the changes at Silver Springs with general indifference. The fishing is good, and one enjoys pleasant fantasies of grabbing a tasty little Bichon Frisé, should one stray too far from its owner...

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