Econfina Creek Springs
Depending on how they are counted, 42 or more springs lie along clear Econfina Creek north of Panama City straddling State Highway 20. Econfina Creek (pronounced "E'-co-fi'-nuh" or "-ner"-is not to be confused with the Econfina River--pronounced "E'-co-fee'nuh"or "-ner"--near Perry). All the springs described below can be reached by canoe in a single day along a stretch of about 7 miles starting at the Walsingham Bridge to a point about a mile below the State Road 20 bridge.
The 1977 Springs of Florida (Rosenau et al.) classified all the springs below the SR 20 bridge as the Gainer Springs group; this group has since been further defined into three sets of named springs—Gainer, Emerald, and McCormick. The authors have found other springs and seeps in this area. The springs are listed as they lie along the east and west banks of Econfina Creek from north to south.
Fed by the many springs, Econfina Creek is fairly clear at normal levels, very clear when the water is low, but dark in times of high water. In fact, springs contribute an estimated 2/3 of the total flow of Econfina Creek or 200,000,000 gallons a day under normal flow conditions (Richards, in "Abstracts of . . . 2000," p. 4). The clustering of so many attractive springs in so small a space, along with the fine rapids on the creek above the spring, have made this site very popular with canoers and kayakers. The Northwest Florida Water Management District manages much of the land around the river. The district has been improving access and utilization of the area for recreation, and manages nearly 40,000 acres around the river to protect the water resource and recharge area.
Econfina Creek is one of the more attractive and pristine rivers in Florida. One can canoe for several miles in the upper stretches and see no signs of civilization. Dramatic bluffs line sections of the river, reaching over 40 feet high. There are sections with exposed limestone reminiscent of the upper Suwannee River. Most of the river is canopied and flows through a thickly forested corridor that has been preserved amid all the logging and farming around it.
Econfina Creek has the most challenging rapids of any Florida river, located in a stretch a few miles north of the springs described in this section. Water flows swiftly through a narrow and often blocked channel that is like a mini-gorge with 30-40 foot banks on both sides. Only kayaks and canoes can navigate this stretch, and only when the water height is not too high or too low. Several publication and web sites, includingACanoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Florida, Volume 1 (Carter& Pearce, 1985), provide detailed information on navigating this stretch.
According to Carter & Pierce, the name "Econfina" is derived from a Muskegon Indian word meaning natural bridge. Apparently, there was once such a bridge where SR20 now crosses the river (p. 53). The upper portion of the river — above Williford Spring - is often obstructed and requires portages. The upper section of the river is also frequently spanned by spider webs up to 30 feet across. One such river-spanning spider, which the authors encountered face-to-face many times on a September paddle, was bright red, white, and blue.
A canoe/kayak livery company serves people interested in paddling Econfina Creek. Econfina Creek Canoe Livery is along Strickland Road, a turn-off from SR 20 to the north about 1/3 mile west of the river - their number is 850-722-9032. It rents canoes and kayaks and provides shuttle service to those who wish to explore the river and its springs.