Springs Fever: A Field & Recreation Guide to 500 Florida Springs.
2nd Edition by Joe Follman and Richard Buchanan

Part VII.  The Ichetucknee River


Forming the border between the southern portions of Suwannee and Columbia Counties, the Ichetucknee River is perhaps the most popular of several short rivers in Florida that are entirely (or primarily) fed by springs.  Other such rivers include the Silver, Wakulla, Rainbow, and Wacissa.  Pronounced ish-tuck'™-nee, and meaning "place of the beaver," the river name is commonly mangled and often stretched to as many as five syllables.  However it is pronounced, the Ichetucknee flows 6-7 miles before emptying into the lower stretch of the Santa Fe River.  The Santa Fe, in turn, flows into the Suwannee River after another seven miles.  These combined flows form the largest single tributary to the Suwannee River.

The upper third of the "Ich" (from the head spring to the mid-point of the tube run) is mostly wide and grassy; reeds and stands of wild rice are common.  Eel grass predominates in the river, which also has exotic water lettuce.  Land around the river in this section varies from marsh to floodplain forest to hardwoods on banks of up to 20 feet.  All but one of the named springs are in this portion.

The middle section of the river (from the mid-point of the tube run to the tube/canoe pull-out) is dense and lush lowland forest and floodplain, and much of the river is canopied.  One named spring is in this portion.  The lower, developed section of the river varies from floodplain forest to hardwood forest, with clearings and houses along the banks.

Perhaps because of the large number of visitors, little wildlife is typically seen in the park.  Snorkelers will spot fish, turtles, and crawfish.  Herons are fairly common in the upper portions of the river.  Alligators and otters have also been seen in the park.  Manatees have been spotted in the river on a few occasions, having traveled up both the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers to the Ichetucknee.

The upper half of the Ichetucknee is a state park and is protected.  Springs range in size from 1st to 3rd magnitude, and all issue clear water.  One spring is the site of an old mill, and the remains of the sluice (cut through the limestone bank) and dam are evident.  Another spring provided water for a Spanish mission, and other springs have long been used for water (both human and livestock) and recreation.  Water in the springs is 72-73 degrees year '˜round.  Teeth and bones of mastodon and other extinct megafauna have been found in the river.

Swimming, tubing, and canoeing are the primary usages of the river today, and the state park is a very popular summer recreation site--the most popular state "spring" park in Florida.  The river is considered by many to be the best tubing run in Florida.  The state park limits the number of tubers to 2,000 per day to reduce the impact of people on the ecosystem.  Even so, the water becomes cloudy on busy summer days, and plants are uprooted by tubers.  No food or drinks may be taken in the water, and a formal shuttle system ferries tubers to and from the river.  Private campgrounds, canoe liveries, and tube rental concessions bracket the park's north and south entrances.  Blue Hole Spring was closed in 2003 because native plants in the spring pool were being destroyed by swimmers and divers.

The only way to see many of the springs along the river is by canoe, and even then several spring runs are posted as restricted.  When the authors asked what the restriction meant, they were told by park staff that neither canoers or tubers could enter the restricted areas, and no one on the river was allowed to make landfall anywhere except at designated put-in and pull-out points.  The authors had unwittingly entered some restricted areas already.

In 1999-2000, there was controversy about the state issuance of a permit for a cement plant four miles from the river.  Environmentalists expressed strong opposition to the permit, fearing an accident might send pollutants into the aquifer that feeds the Ichetucknee River. T he company in question, which had many previous environmental citations, was initially denied a permit by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, directed by David Struhs.  Struhs and Florida Governor John (Jeb) Bush had visited the river and expressed a commitment to protect it.  However, when faced with a lawsuit by the company, the state subsequently issued a permit for the cement plant, which had also been approved by the local county planning commission.  The company pledged to utilize state-of-the-art methods to prevent pollution or damage to the aquifer.  In addition, the company sold to the State some nearby land that it had already mined.  Controversy arose again ain 2002 when the plant proposed to expand its efforts eight-fold--see articles at the end of this section by the St. Petersburg Times and the Gainesville Sun about the controversy.

As with nearly all springs in Florida, the Ichetucknee basin is threatened by rising levels of nitrate and other pollutants.  Studies of the area show the Ichetucknee springshed is approximately 200 square miles.  The spring system is fed both by slow and filtered flows (water seeping through the earth and limestone) and fast flows from creeks, sinkholes, and enclosed depressions.  There are hundreds of sinkholes in the springshed, and so there is rapid recharge from runoff in some places (Kyle Champion, Fla. Springs Conference, 2003).  Therefore, it is important to try to avoid or minimize development in the areas of rapid recharge.

Tourism has become a major source of income to the area and has also resulted in increasing awareness of the importance and fragility of the river and the surrounding karst topography.  Approximately 200,000 people now visit the state park each year, an increase of over 40% during the period of 1992-2002.  Ninety percent of the visitors in 2002 were from outside the region, and they generated $21.0 million in revenue and 286 jobs (Mark Bonn, Fla. Springs Conference, 2003).  Dale Williams, Planning Manager for Columbia County, remarked (at a February 2000 conference on springs) that the citizens of the area traditionally took the river, springs, and sinkholes for granted.  Only partially in humor, he noted that the attitude of many people was that the sinkholes and springs were "God's way of giving us a place to dispose of our garbage."  In recent years, local residents have been more active in protecting the springs and sinkholes on their property.

The springs described below are listed in the order that one would likely encounter them visiting from the land and from a canoe.
 
 

Part VII Contents

               Ichetucknee (or Head) Spring
               Blue Hole (or Blue or Jug) Spring
               Cedar Head Spring
               Mission/Fig/Roaring/Singing Springs
               Devil'™s Eye (or Boiling) Springs
               Grassy Hole Spring
               Mill Pond Springs
               Coffee Springs

Ichetucknee (or Head) Spring
Columbia County

Summary of Features
Scale'”2nd magnitude
Scenery'”fine
How Pristine?'”developed swim and picnic areas, retaining wall and fence around spring
Swimming'”good-very good
Protection'”excellent
Crowds'”heavy on warm days
Access'”excellent
Facilities'”fine
Safety'”fine
Scuba'”no
Cost'”Varies by use--see Use/Access below

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn north (left) at park sign onto State Road 137. Take first paved road on the right (State Road 238) to park entrance on the right. The spring is 250 feet from the head of the main parking area on the left below the restrooms.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Spring Description
The spring forms an irregularly shaped pool of about 75 by 100 feet in an area that slopes down 15 feet from the surrounding parkland and forest. Water flows from beneath a 20-foot-long limestone ledge in the NW end of the pool from several points at depths of up to 25 feet. The water is clear and deep blue over the vent, and the entire pool usually has a blue hue. There are small fish and minnows in the pool and larger fish near the limestone opening.  There is exposed limestone in the pool and at the surface.  The spring forms the headwaters of the Ichetucknee River.  A fence is strung across the mouth of the pool to prevent access from tubers and canoes into the spring.   There is a rock wall on one side of the pool. The general depth of the pool is about 8 feet.

Use/Access

Personal Impressions
Except when there are crowds at the spring, Ichetucknee Spring is a very enticing and attractive spot.  The manmade features do not significantly mar the relatively natural appearance of the spring, and the restoration efforts have at least doubled the submerged area, making it an excellent spot for snorkeling.

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 


Blue Hole Spring
Columbia County

Summary of Features
Scale'”1st magnitude
Scenery'”outstanding
How Pristine?'”dock and fence around the parts of the spring
Swimming'”very good, outstanding snorkeling
Protection'”excellent
Crowds'”heavy on warm weekends
Access'”Closed off in 2003 to allow for native plant recovery/restoration; normally very good, 1/3 mile walk
Facilities'”fine nearby
Safety'”very good
Scuba'”only with special permission
Cost'”$3.25 per car load

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn north (left) at park sign onto State Road 137. Take first paved road on the right (State Road 238) to the park entrance on the right. The spring is at the end of a 1/3 mile boardwalk and path that begins just a few feet from the head of the main parking area. From the river, the spring'™s fenced-off run is about 1,500 feet below Ichetucknee Spring.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Spring Description
The spring forms a lush pool in an area of deep forest and floodplain. The spring pool is about 75 by 120 feet wide. Water flows powerfully from a cylindrical limestone shaft near the center of the pool. The shaft is about 12 feet in diameter and 6 feet below the surface. It extends down 15 feet before opening into an underwater chamber with a depth of around 35 feet. There is a cavern system associated with the spring. Water in the spring is clear and can be an intense blue. The rest of the pool area is covered in eel grass and about 6 feet deep. Cypress trees encircle the spring, which is also fed by the run of Cedar Head Spring, which flows into the Blue Hole Spring from the north.

Use/Access

Local Springiana Personal Impressions
Blue Hole is one of the more spectacular springs in Florida. Its pristine setting, powerful flow, clear water, and skin-diving challenge (it is an accomplishment to fight the strong flow all the way to the bottom) place it in the top tier of Florida springs.

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 

Cedar Head Spring
Columbia County

Summary of Features
Scale'”3rd magnitude
Scenery'”very good
How Pristine?'” completely unspoiled
Swimming'”no
Protection'”excellent
Crowds'”none
Access'”moderately difficult
Facilities'”fine nearby
Safety'”good, watch for poisonous plants
Scuba'”no
Cost'”$3.25 per car load

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn north (left) at park sign onto State Road 137. Take first paved road on the right (State Road 238) to the park entrance on the right. The spring is between Ichetucknee and Blue Hole Springs. Walk to Blue Hole Spring and follow run from Cedar Head Spring 1,000 feet to the north.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Spring Description
The spring lies at the head of a 1,000-foot run that empties into the pool for Blue Hole Spring in Ichetucknee Springs State Park. The spring area is of irregular shape and perhaps 20 by 50 feet in an area of heavy forest and rolling karst terrain. There is a 5-foot limestone bank on the west side of the run, and a low bank on the east side. Water in the spring is clear, but the spring head is difficult to see due to the overhanging bank and foliage that blocks a clear view. The run is about 15 feet wide and 1-2 feet deep.

Use/Access

Personal Impressions
The authors were glad to finally see the spring after being within 1,000 feet of it on a dozen occasions.  At the same time, they felt like intruders on the unspoiled scene and ruined a perfectly good morning for a dozen wood ducks wintering at the spring head.

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 


Mission/Roaring/Fig/Singing Springs
Columbia County

Summary of Features
Scale'”2nd magnitude
Scenery'”excellent
How Pristine?'” very unspoiled
Swimming'”no
Protection'”excellent
Crowds'”none
Access'”restricted, only two flows are accessible and only through strenuous effort
Facilities'”none at spring; fine nearby in state park
Safety'”very good
Scuba'”no
Cost'”$4.25 per person to canoe

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn north (left) at park sign onto State Road 137. Take first paved road on the right (State Road 238) to the park entrance on the right. Put in canoe at launch. The springs are on the perimeter of an island that is about 1,500 feet downstream (about a 5-minute paddle) from Blue Hole Spring on the same (left or east) side.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at these springs, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Springs Descriptions
This is a series of springs along the edges of and across from Fig Island, which is peanut-shell-shaped and 1-2 acres in size. Most of the springs are in the back, SE corner of the island. Flows from these springs go NW and SW around the island to the Ichetucknee River, with most of the flow to the NW. The other springs are in a small alcove on the opposite (river) side of the island. The springs are divided into five groups for purposes of description, based on their locations and flow characteristics and numbered on the graphic below. The springs grouped under numbers 2-4 are lumped together as Singing Springs in Rosenau et al. (1977, p. 102). Note: the authors have not found any published description of the springs described under "Spring 5 pair" below.

Spring 1 (Roaring Spring)'”Water flows from a limestone vent beneath the surface at the base of the limestone bank near the SE corner of the island. A boulder perhaps 10 by 12 feet has calved off the bank in front of the vent, splitting the flow of the spring. Water flows powerfully around the boulder and creates a strong current. The depth of vent could not be determined. The water is clear and flows NW to the river in the primary run around the island. The strong flow from the spring may have undermined the adjacent island bank, causing the boulder to break off from the island and slide onto the spring itself. Springs of Florida (Rosenau et al., p. 102), describes the spring as emerging from beneath the island's rock face. This suggests the boulder has calved off since the 1977 publication of that document. The run is 1-4 feet deep and 20-30 feet wide. There was water lettuce and other vegetation in the run.

Spring 2 (Singing Springs)'”Across from Roaring Spring above and a few feet further south, this small spring is on the bank of the mainland. Water flows from a small oval indentation in the bank approximately 3 by 5 feet, directly into the NW run around the island. Water flows from a limestone opening.

Spring 3 (Singing Springs)'”Also on the mainland across from and about 40 feet SE of Spring #1 (of Roaring Spring) and 30 feet south of Spring 2 above. The spring forms a small grotto on the bank with water flowing out the bottom. The oval indentation in the bank is about twice the size of that at Spring #2. This spring is just before the curving edge of land across from the extreme SE tip of Fig Island. Water from this spring flows both NW and SW around the island.

Spring 4 group (Singing Springs)'”Beginning 6-10 feet south of Spring 3, where the corners of the mainland and Fig Island meet, is a series of small flows at the base of the bank and at the base of Fig Island. The first and largest flow area is perhaps 5 feet wide and immediately south of Spring 3. The next two small flows are directly across from each other, 10-15 feet south, at the narrowest point of water between the island and the mainland (about 5 feet across December 2000). Another flow was visible at the base of the bank on the island another 20-25 feet to the SW. These flows are either only an inch or two deep, or create small upwellings from the crevices that issue them. Water from these springs flows SW around the island. This SW run is not passable by canoe due to obstructions, aquatic vegetation, and the shallowness of the run.

Spring 5 pair'”Two boils well up from the base of the limestone bank on the west side of the island (facing the river). The boils are about three feet apart and two feet from the bank. The water is clear and about 4 feet deep.

Springs 1 (Boiling) and 5 appeared to have the greatest flows, followed by that from the Singing Springs group. The area around the springs is rolling karst terrain and is densely forested. In warm weather, the run around the island is effectively blocked by vegetation. There is rich vegetation even in the winter.

Use/Access

Local Springiana
According to Rosenau et al (1977, p. 102) and Scalpone (1994, p. 41), there was a Spanish Mission located near these springs circa 1670.

Personal Impressions
The authors' delight in finding these various springs (up to 9, depending on how they are counted) was tempered by the concern'”later confirmed'”that they had trespassed in a restricted area in order to do so. Roaring Spring was by far the most powerful and impressive of the springs around Fig Island.

Nearby Springs
Blue Hole Spring
Cedar Head Spring
Ichetucknee Spring
Devil's Eye Springs
Grassy Hole Spring
Mill Pond Spring
Coffee Spring
Other Nearby Natural Features

Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 

Devil's Eye (or Boiling) Springs
Suwannee County

Summary of Features
Scale'”2nd magnitude
Scenery'”outstanding
How Pristine?'”very unspoiled
Swimming'”very good-fine
Protection'”excellent
Crowds'”small
Access'”very good
Facilities'”none at spring; fine in park nearby
Safety'”very good
Scuba'”yes
Cost'”$4.25 per person to canoe

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn north (left) at park sign onto State Road 137. Take first paved road on the right (State Road 238) to the park entrance on the right. Put canoe in at launch. The springs are about 850 feet downstream (about three minutes' paddle) from Mission Springs, on the opposite bank.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Spring Description
Perhaps more accurately termed "Devil'™s Eyes," this is a set of two springs/spring pools that form a single run to the Ichetucknee River. The main pool is circular and perhaps 120 feet wide. Water issues from a limestone opening in the middle of the pool and forms large boils on the surface. Plants surround the opening, which appeared to be about 15 feet deep. Water over the vent was blue and very clear on date of visit (December 2000). A large live oak tree arches from the bank at the back of the pool, with limbs reaching perhaps 40 feet directly over the vent. The spring run is about 50 feet wide and includes the flow from the second spring on the site (see below).

The secondary spring and its pool are immediately adjacent to the main spring and about 120 feet to the northwest (or upriver side). The pool is circular and about 25 feet in diameter. Water flows up along what appears to be a nearly vertical limestone wall beneath the surface. A mild boil was visible, and the water was clear and light blue over the vent. The flow from this spring joins that of the adjacent larger spring. Note: the authors have not found any published descriptions of this spring, even though it is both clearly separate from the larger spring and clearly visible.

The two springs create a run of about 160 feet to the Santa Fe River. The land around the springs is forested floodplain and karst terrain.

Use/Access

The park includes bathrooms and picnic facilities, and a concession stand at the south entrance.

Local Springiana
The name of the main spring is derived from the eye-like appearance of the vent among the surrounding eel grass.

Personal Impressions
In its natural and undisturbed setting, with its powerful boil and dramatic blue against the green eel grass all around it, and the natural framing of the nearby banks and overarching oak tree, Devil's Eye Spring is one of the most attractive and appealing springs in Florida.

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 

Grassy Hole Spring
Columbia County

Summary of Features
Scale'”2nd magnitude
Scenery'”excellent
How Pristine?'”completely pristine
Swimming'”no
Protection'”excellent
Crowds'”none
Access'”canoe only, run is usually too shallow to navigate
Facilities'”none at spring; excellent in state park nearby
Safety'”good
Scuba'”no
Cost'”$4.25 per person to canoe

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn north (left) at park sign onto State Road 137. Take first paved road on the right (State Road 238) to the park entrance on the right. The spring is ¼-1/3 mile downstream from Devil's Eye Springs on the same (right or west) side.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Spring Description
The spring creates a small pool in a low area at the base of long, 20-foot-high natural levee to the west. The spring and its run are in a swampy area and create a small, irregularly-shaped pool that is about 12 by 6 feet and 2-3 feet deep. There are other pool/puddle areas nearby. There appeared to be more than one vent on the date of visit, but aquatic vegetation and the overarching canopy made it difficult to see the bottom. Cypress trees and knees grow around the spring, which forms a 200-foot run of 4 inches to 2 feet deep to the river. The shallow run is clear but filled with aquatic vegetation and cypress knees.

Use/Access

Personal Impressions
The spring is wild, swampy, and completely pristine.

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 

Mill Pond Springs
Columbia County

Summary of Features
Scale'”2nd magnitude
Scenery'”excellent
How Pristine?'”original spring run modified, remnants of old mill sluice and dam
Swimming'”poor
Protection'”excellent
Crowds'”small
Access'”restricted, no access
Facilities'”none at spring; excellent in nearby state park
Cost'”$4.25 per person to canoe

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn north (left) at park sign onto State Road 137. Take first paved road on the right (State Road 238) to the park entrance on the right. The spring is immediately (about 150 feet) after Grassy Hole Spring on the opposite (left or east) side of the river.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Spring Description
The spring flows from a limestone bank/grotto at the head of the run, which is about 150 yards in length. The spring forms an oval pool about 45 feet in width. The run is the same width as the spring. There are a couple of other vents in the spring pool. Water from the spring is clear, and the pool and run are 2-5 feet deep. There are fallen trees in the pool, which has a rocky bottom with some vegetation. Forested banks rise up from the spring pool around the spring, then the elevation descends toward the river into floodplain forest.

The spring is the site of an old mill. The run was dammed, and flow diverted a few feet away through a sluice/mill carved from the limestone bank. The carved limestone remains, looking like a very ancient structure. Evidence of the dam is evident in the run, which retains a small cascade at the point of the old log dam. Water no longer flows through the sluice.

Use/Access

Local Springiana
As noted above, the spring run was altered in the 1800s to channel water to run a mill that was placed in a sluice carved from limestone on the south side of the run.

Personal Impressions
The site is very interesting historically and archeologically. The simple dam and mill design are still clearly evident after more than a century. The spring is also very attractive and has long ago recovered from the modifying hand of man.

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 


Coffee Spring
Suwannee County

Summary of Features
Scale'”2nd magnitude
Scenery'”fine
How Pristine?'”fenced off, otherwise very natural
Swimming'”no
Protection'”exceptional
Crowds'”none in actual spring, heavy in adjacent river on warm days
Access'”visual only, from canoe or tube
Facilities'”none at spring; excellent in park nearby
Safety'”very good
Scuba'”no
Cost'”$4.25 per person to canoe

Directions
From Branford, drive SE on U.S. 27 for about 10 miles. Turn left at sign into south entrance of Ichetucknee Springs State Park shortly after crossing the river. Spring is a short distance below Dampiers Landing behind the main park building. Alternatively, the spring is about one mile downriver of Mill Pond Spring if you put in at the north entrance, or 0.8 mile below the midpoint tube launch.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Spring Description
The spring is blocked by a sturdy wire fence. The spring area is on the riverbank and forms a C-shaped pool with exposed limestone and two primary flows. The upstream spring is larger and is a small grotto about 35 feet from the river. Water cascades from limestone openings and into the spring pool. The second flow is 25 feet downriver from the larger spring and about 30 feet from the river. It is a limestone opening with water cascading out. The two springs form a shallow pool that empties directly into the river. The pool was covered with aquatic vegetation.

Use/Access

Local Springiana
The rare endemic snail in Coffee Spring is the Ichetucknee Silt Snail.  It is found nowhere else.

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
O'™Leno State Park
San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
Devil'™s Millhopper State Geologic Site
River Rise State Preserve

Contact Information
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Ft. White, FL 32038
386-497-2511 (recorded information)
386-497-1216 (North Ranger Station)
386-497-2302 (South Ranger Station)
 
 

Two Articles on Expansion of Cement Plant near the Ichetucknee River
Mine to grow near pristine river.  State environmental concerns won't halt mine, but push back cement plant
opening.
By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2002

BRANFORD -- Four years after Gov. Jeb Bush canoed the aqua-blue Ichetucknee River and vowed to protect it, his administration is about to permit a nearby limestone mine to grow by eight times despite ongoing environmental violations.

The mine is part of the Suwannee American Cement plant near Ichetucknee State Park, a controversial project that Bush and the Department of Environmental Protection denied in 1999 but approved a year later after the company sued.

The state permit will allow the mine to grow from 100 acres to 800 and operate for 100 years.

Permitting the mine expansion is so politically sensitive that Bush and David Struhs, secretary of the DEP, abruptly slapped new restrictions on the cement plant after the St. Petersburg Times began asking questions.

Bush initially said he was unaware of the mine expansion, although the DEP has been reviewing the permit for two years. After a briefing, he and Struhs decided to permit the mine but bar the cement plant from opening for two years. The plant was supposed to open late this year.

Delaying the plant opening allows the state to "turn the mining story into the object lesson you want it to be," Struhs said Bush told him.

The lesson: The state's hands are tied by weak laws.

In March, DEP inspectors discovered that air quality monitors at the cement plant construction site hadn't worked for months. The monitors were supposed to measure background air quality before the plant opened. The company paid a $16,000 fine.

That violation will delay the plant's operating permit, Struhs said.

The company expressed surprise at the decision and said it had been working with the state on the problem. "We've gotten the problem solved," said Jim McLelland, spokesman for Anderson Columbia, Suwannee American's parent company.

But it's not the only violation, records show:

In August 2001, sinkholes opened under a stormwater pond on the plant property. The company alerted DEP and hired an engineer, who found a pond was dug 2 feet deeper than the state permit allowed. More sinkholes could form, the engineer said, creating a "natural pathway for unfiltered surface water to mix with groundwater." The company filled the new sinkholes with
concrete, but the engineer noted: "The potential for future collapse . . . will continue to be a factor." The DEP didn't fine the company.

Suwannee American has a small cement plant at the construction site to make material to build the new plant. In February, state inspectors discovered that equipment to catch pollution from the small plant had blown off. The company paid a $4,000 fine.

The company has had other violations in the Panhandle. In February 2001, the DEP fined Anderson Columbia $178,000 for pollution at a construction project on Highway 98 in Santa Rosa County. The company is challenging the fine.

On Wednesday, the company agreed to pay $3,250 for pollution from road work on Interstate 10 in Escambia County.

Four years ago, Struhs and Bush said a company's environmental record should be considered when it applies for a permit. Struhs said road builder Anderson Columbia had such a bad environmental record that it was too risky to allow the cement plant in a water-rich part of Florida.

"Air quality permits will not be issued to demonstrated high-risk applicants in high-risk areas at this DEP," Struhs wrote in a memo.

Struhs later said the DEP was on shaky legal ground because loopholes in state law make it hard for the DEP to deny permits based on a company's record. Facing a lawsuit, the DEP reversed itself and issued the permit.

During secret negotiations, the DEP extracted concessions from the company, including an agreement to sell another mine the company owned in Columbia County to taxpayers for $23-million to protect the Ichetucknee headwaters.

But that mine is 21/2 times smaller than the one the company now wants to build. The company quietly applied for a permit for the bigger mine in October 2000, four months after it got the cement plant permit.

On Thursday, Struhs told the St. Petersburg Times that he and Bush had reviewed the company's record and decided to delay the cement plant's operating permit. They planned to act next month but accelerated the decision because of the newspaper's inquiries.

"What really drove our decision was not wanting to have our issuance of the mining permit misperceived as overlooking what our obvious and well-known compliance problems are with this company," Struhs said.

On May 1, the state published a legal notice about its intention to let the mine expand in the twice-weekly Suwannee Democrat in Live Oak. The time for public comment expired this week.

A few local environmentalists knew about the bigger mine, but didn't mount much opposition.

For one thing, their fight against the cement plant had been frustrating and bitter. At one point, protesters chained themselves together outside the governor's office. Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth intervened on behalf of the citizens, and lost.

The citizens who filed suit against the cement plant were shunned in Suwannee County, where leaders wanted the 100 jobs and property taxes the plant would provide. After the citizens lost, Suwannee American sued the citizens to make them pay the company's legal bills. A judge refused.

"We tried to find a way to challenge it, but the mining regulations in the state are extremely lax," said Kathy Cantwell, chairwoman of the Suwannee-St. John's chapter of the Sierra Club.

Struhs agrees. "We cannot legally deny the permit to expand the mine," he said. "We've got to change the laws."

This year, Struhs lobbied legislators to make environmental history count when a company applies for a permit, but the bill didn't go anywhere. Bush didn't publicly push for the law, as he did with other legislation.

In Suwannee County, neighbors worry that the giant mine will threaten underground water. Heavy equipment will tear limestone out of the earth near the Ichetucknee, Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers -- all ranked as Outstanding Florida Waters. Ichetucknee Springs State Park draws 200,000 visitors a year. The DEP's mining bureau says the mine "is not perceived" as a threat to the park.

Groundwater beneath the mine flows toward the Santa Fe River, not the Ichetucknee, state scientists say. The Santa Fe connects with the Suwannee and flows underground for part of its length. The state is just starting to study how water moves in the area. The mine will be 2 miles from the Santa Fe at its closest point.

"Will the mine affect the flow of groundwater? Absolutely," Struhs said. "Will it contaminate the groundwater? That depends on how you define contamination."

The permit says if the company punches through limestone, workers will stop, report it and plug the hole.

"When they mine, they are going to break through these caverns," said Svenn Lindskold, president of Save Our Suwannee, an environmental group. "When a dragline that's working below the surface breaks through, who is going to know? Who is going to call? How are they going to plug it?"

On an empty stretch of U.S. 27 near Branford, the cement plant's giant smokestacks are rising above the treeline.

"It's going to be the big landmark in the area," said Clarence McNamee, a nearby resident who challenged the plant.

The plant will burn coal and tires and release about 3,100 tons of pollutants every year, including 97 pounds of mercury, which
environmentalists say could taint fish in the three nearby rivers. The DEP says the plant will have more pollution controls than any other cement plant in Florida.

Among those who tried to stop the plant, there's bitterness about allowing heavy industry in one of Florida's finest places.

The DEP issued the cement plant permit in secret negotiations with the company, prompting charges of back-room dealing. The company's chief negotiator was Steve MacNamara, a top aide to then-Florida House Speaker John Thrasher. DEP staffers later complained that they thought MacNamara was representing Thrasher, and didn't know he was also on Anderson Columbia's payroll. The state Ethics Commission found probable cause that MacNamara violated ethics laws. He is appealing.

Anderson Columbia has figured in several political scandals. At one point, it had two lawmakers on its payroll, former House Speaker Bolley "Bo" Johnson and former Lake City Rep. Randy Mackey. Both were convicted of tax fraud for failing to report Anderson Columbia payments. Johnson served time in federal prison and Mackey is free while he appeals.

"This was a highly political case," said Patrice Boyes, a Gainesville lawyer who represented plant opponents. "It's kind of hard for citizens to combat that kind of pressure. The speaker of the House's aide was on the company's payroll. It leaves one with a bitter taste of cynicism."
 
 
 

Gainesville Sun Article, May 25, 2002 by Sun Staff Writer, Ron Matus:

A State Agency Maintains that Suwannee American Cement has not Obeyed the Terms of a 1999 Settlement:
State environmental officials and the company building a cement plant near the Ichetucknee River are clashing again, this time over air pollution monitoring data the company agreed it would have before the plant could open. In an unusually blunt letter to the company Friday, the Department of Environmental Protection said without the data, company plans to operate the controversial plant are "in serious jeopardy."

Officials with Suwannee American Cement fear the latest dispute with DEP may delay the plant's opening as long as two years, with millions of dollars in lost sales. "You're talking about a $100 million investment here," said company spokesman Jim McClellan. At issue is a 1999 settlement agreement between Suwannee American and DEP. The agency agreed to give the plant a permit--and reverse a decision to deny the permit five months earlier--in return for a list of concessions, including a company promise to provide more than two years" worth of background air pollution data before the plant starts burning coal to make cement. The data would allow the state to compare pollution levels before and after the plant begins to operate.

Suwannee American says it hasn't been able to provide the data because two sophisticated pollution monitors it bought from an Atlanta company in 2000 turned out to be, in the words of Suwannee's consultant, "lemons." "If we knew we were going to have the continuous problems...we would have gotten some other monitors," said John Koogler with Gainesville-based Koogler & Associates. Koogler said he finally "got the bugs worked out" in March, which would give the company nine months' worth of data before the plant's anticipated opening early next year.

The company promised 27 months worth of data in the settlement. In March, DEP fined Suwannee American $15,000 for not having the monitors up and running as promised. On Friday, it issued an ominous warning. "Because this data collection requirement is intended to provide important baseline air quality information before the plant becomes operational, your ability to bring the plant on line is in serious jeopardy," wrote DEP Deputy Secretary Allan Bedwell to plant manager Robert Sagmeister. "While additional legal notices regarding this issue are forthcoming, do not make plans or have any expectations to test or operate the plant in question until this issue is resolved."

The letter's tone rattled company officials. "This didn't just come out of left field," McClellan said. "This came out of the cheap seats." Koogler called it "a Friday afternoon shocker." McClellan said the company was trying to arrange a meeting with DEP as soon as possible to "find some reasonable solution." "The question that needs to be asked is: Are we holding up this business and these jobs for legitimate scientific reasons," he said, "or is this an arbitrary time period?" DEP Secretary David Struhs could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. Other DEP officials who were reached said they could not comment or were not familiar with Bedwell's letter.

The flare-up is the latest round in a 3 and one half year battle between DEP and Suwannee American, an affiliate of Lake City road builder Anderson Columbia Inc. In June 1999, DEP stunned environmentalists by denying a permit, saying the company could not provide "reasonable assurance" it would operate the plant safely because of Anderson Columbia's long list of environmental violations. It was the first time DEP had denied a permit on those grounds. But the settlement agreement was announced five months later. Now the plant is under construction off U.S. 27 in Suwannee County, 3 miles west of the Ichetucknee River and 40 miles north of Gainesville. It will burn 100,000 tons of coal and used tires each year and employ 80 people.

The monitors required in the settlement measure particulates, dust-like pollutants that can cause lung problems if inhaled.  Koogler said the monitors collected data while they were on the fritz, just not as much as DEP requires.  There is still enough information for the agency to know what typical background levels are for particulates in that area, he said.  Getting data over a longer period of time will allow DEP to see the ups and downs in pollution levels during different seasons, when winds, rain and other weather conditions come into play.

The latest development surprised both critics and supporters.  But Tallahassee activist Linda Young, a leading opponent of the plant, remained skeptical about DEP's intentions.  "Don't believe it for a second," she said about the agency's new attitude. If DEP intended to enforce the settlement agreement, it would have jumped on the company just a few months after it was signed, when Anderson Columbia was being cited for environmental violations on a road project in the Panhandle.  The dispute in that case remains unresolved and likely to head to court.  The Friday letter is "posturing and bluffing and boob-dazzling the public," she said. "When the rubber hits the road, they're going to cave to political pressure."

At least one Suwannee County commissioner who strongly supported the plant gave DEP a thumbs up.  "I'd have a problem if DEP allowed a company to open without meeting the agreement," said Commissioner Doug Udell.  As for the jobs, "You can't miss what you don't have," he said.