Summary of Features
- Scale -2nd magnitude
- Scenery -good-very good
- How Pristine? -developed and cleared park area, retaining walls aroundsprings and run, walkway over run
- Swimming -fine, excellent snorkeling
- Protection -fine
- Crowds -heavy on warm weekends
- Access -excellent
- Facilities -excellent
- Safety -very good
- Scuba -not at present
- Cost -$1 per person
Address: 4240 SW 86th Ave, Bell, FL 32619
Phone: (352) 463-3444. Web link: www.hartsprings.com
From Fanning Springs, drive north on SR 26 1-2 miles. At fork in Wilcox, go north on SR 232. Drive about 3.5 miles and turn left (west) onto SR344 and drive about 2 miles to park entrance.
Hart Springs has four main vents in two spring pools that form a common run to the Suwannee River. The back (south) pool is circular, 40-50 feet across, and deep blue and clear on sunny days. The two vents are amid exposed limestone, 25-30 feet deep, about 15 feet apart, and appear to lead to caverns. The force of the upwelling water throws up sand that has washed into the spring below the concrete retaining walls due to human activity. There are boils over the vents. The flow creates a run that flows about 150 feet before being joined by the flow from the other springs pool. The water in the run is clear and 3-6 feet deep. There are some plants in the run as well as mullet and other fish. The upper portion of the spring run has a concrete retaining wall on both sides, and there are a couple of cypress trees along the banks.
The lower pool is perhaps 50 feet across and 2-5 feet deep except over the two vents. The larger vent is in the back of the pool and is a coffin-shaped limestone opening. The second vent is about 30 feet away (southeast) and is a smaller opening that is partially obscured by water plants. Water in the pool is very clear and blue. The second spring pool also has a retaining wall around it and exits to the SW to join the main spring run. The combined spring runs flow another 250 feet to the Suwannee River. The run narrows as it nears the river from 75 feet wide to about 35 feet wide and is 2-5 feet deep in general. The run is in a more natural state and herons and schooling mullet may be seen. There is a boardwalk along the run to the river.
Note: The erosion noted below was magnified when the retaining wall near the south vents collapsed. So much debris fell into thisarea that the south springflows were completely blocked from 1998-2004. On May 1-2, 2004, a coalition of people including spring divers, the Fla. Speleological Society, Hart Springs County Park staff, staff from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, local organizations, and others removed several tons of debris from the springheads and restored their flow. Pumps, dredging, containers, and lift bags were used in the restoration. This effort required substantial efforts to obtain necessary approvals, permits, and to get key players to support the restoration. For more details on this restoration, as well as photographs,go to http://www.overheadtimes.com/article_disp.asp?Article_ID=138
- The concession stand rents a long flotation device called a "torpedo" that holds up to 2 people and is very entertaining for children (see essay below). Personal Impressions
- Despite all the concrete, the springs are attractive and very good for swimming. The park is an excellent place for children.
- For many years, erosion was a problem in the springs. Children digging under the retaining wall and at the water's edges sent sand down into the springs, changing their appearance and partially blocking their natural flow.
- The springs are part of a county park with camping facilities, a dock for boats, a concession/camp store, bathrooms, picnic facilities/pavilions, and flotation devices for rent.
- Skin-diving the deeper springs is a good and fun challenge--the limestone openings are very dark, and the water is flowing out forcefully.
When JF first visited the spring, he witnessed the spectacle of two local children discovering a snake--most likely non-venomous--and then joyously beating it to death with a piece of knotted length of rope while their mother hollered cautionary advice from across the spring. At that time there was also a spectacular rope swing that started at least 25 feet above the water and dropped the swinger from that height into the deep part of the spring. JF enjoyed using it.
- Turtle Spring
- Fletcher Spring
- Pothole Spring
- Lumbercamp Spring
- Guaranto Spring
- Rock Bluff Spring
- Hart Springs
- McCrabb Spring
- Copper Spring
- Little Copper Spring
- Fanning Springs
- Manatee Springs
- Iron Springs
- Rock Sink Spring
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park
- O'Leno State Park
- San Felasco Hammock State Preserve
- Fanning Springs State Recreation Area
- River Rise State Preserve
- Manatee Springs State Park
An Essay on Hart Springs
Hart Springs is a Gilchrist County Park ten minutes north of Fanning off CR 341. Virtually unknown to outsiders, Hart Springs is Fanning on a geographically larger scale, although it does not quite match Fanning's beauty or flow. It has two spring areas, offers camping in addition to picnicking, and has a longer run to the Suwannee that is also accompanied by a boardwalk among the cypress. A camp store rents floats as well as picnic supplies, including a torpedo-shaped contraption that can hold three children and take them off your hands for hours.
The springs and the run are ideal for water play. Mullet congregate and bass lurk in the run, manatee can be seen in the winter, and big and little blue, yellow crowned, and tri-color herons are regulars. Boats can dock in the camp area. Bring a mask and snorkel--most people never stick their face in and miss the transcendent beauty of water emerging from the earth. Two of the vents are easy to reach--only 8 and 12 feet deep, respectively. Diving into the 12-footer some years ago, I discovered some jerks had somehow lodged a 200-pound concrete bench seat into it. I could not get it out, alas.
The two deeper vents require a bit more lung power, but are worth the effort. Down 25 feet or so, they issue from caves and throwsand up in non-stop cascades. The black world is cold and alien, but alluring at the same time. Peering into the void, lungs about to burst, and alternately drawn in and fearful of drowning, the words of Robert Frost came to mymind: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep.And miles to go before I sleep." You find a rock, push up from it, andrise to the surface and life.
But even after you leave, Hart stays with you. An hour later as you are driving home, you scratch an itch in your eyebrow. Water that was retained there is released in a cool trickle onto your fingers and down your temple. It is a final souvenir.