July 7, 2014
This past 4th of July we were given the opportunity to explore the north central part of the state.
My cousin (Larry) and his wife (Gloria) live in Ft. White, Florida. They had invited us up for the holiday weekend, and since we were relatively new to the Florida area we gladly accepted and looked forward to the trip. Besides, we haven’t seen each other for many years and it would be a great time for us to catch up on things.
They built a lovely elevated home that backs up to the banks of the Santa Fe River. The rivers are prone to flooding in the area so most of the homes are built on brick stilt foundations. However, one of the perks of living in the area is really good drinking water. Just behind their property a fresh water spring from below spews an endless flow of clean and translucent water into the Santa Fe River. One could bottle and store it for later use if desired.
The river is virtually a water paradise and excellent for floating on a tube, boating, canoeing and snorkeling.
We were itching to get our feet wet after watching a steady stream of floaters straddling their inflatables pass by, so we decided to rent a few tubes and join in on the fun.
Larry and Gloria reside in the “Three Rivers” subdivision. Another perk of living there is having gate access to a private area perfect for launching a rubber raft or tube in the Ichetucknee River with no fees. The Ichetucknee River is another smaller spring water contributory to the Santa Fe River which flows into the Suwannee River.
The beautiful aqua colored Ichetucknee river is so clear and pristine that you can see the bottom several feet down. The slow steady current provides about a three hour float time on a tube from the State Park before it joins the Santa Fe River. The river has a year round average temperature of 72F and is flanked on each side by very old Cypress trees covered in the ever present hanging Spanish moss. Many people were fishing and grilling from their private boat docks, and enjoying their jet skis, power boats and other water craft. Although, there isn’t much room to maneuver around the people floating and enjoying the river.
During the colder times of the year the Florida Manatees swim up the river and enjoy the warmer waters. I plan on revisiting the area with a wetsuit and a snorkel rig in search of the gentle water creatures in the near future. The Manatee is also listed by the World Conservation Union as vulnerable to extinction, so its illegal under federal and Florida law to injure or harm a Manatee. They are classified as “endangered” by both the state and the federal governments. Although, many Manatees are unintentionally injured and killed by boat props.
The crystalline Ichetucknee River flows about six miles through the shaded wetlands before it joins the Santa Fe River. In 1972, the head spring of the river was declared a National Natural Landmark by the U. S. Department of the Interior. From the end of May until early September, tubing down the river is the premier activity in the area. In addition to tubing, visitors can enjoy picnicking, snorkeling, canoeing, swimming, hiking, and wildlife viewing. October through March scuba diving is available in the Blue Hole only (you must be cave certified). White-tailed deer, raccoons, wild turkeys, wood ducks and great blue herons can be seen from the river. Picnic areas, equipped with tables and grills, are available throughout the park. A full-service concession offers food, refreshments, and outdoor products from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Tubes plus snorkeling and diving equipment can be rented from private vendors outside the park located four miles northwest of Fort White, off State Roads 47 and 238.
TUBING FEE AT PARK: $5.00 per person. Children 5 years old and younger tube free!
Tubes must be smaller than 5 feet in diameter to float freely down the natural river.
Tubes and other inflatables range from $5 and up with most of the vendors outside the park.
Contributed by: Martin Allred