Jackson (or Marianna) Blue Spring
Summary of Features
- Scale - 1st magnitude
- Scenery - very good to fine
- How Pristine? - bordered, developed into swimming/recreation area, high nitrate content in water
- Swimming - outstanding
- Protection - very good
- Wildlife - good, some populations disappearing
- Crowds - crowded on warm weekends
- Access - excellent, but only Memorial Day to Labor Day
- Facilities - very good
- Safety - excellent
- Scuba - yes, at $30 per person
- Cost - $4 per person
July 3, 2015
From Highway 90 in Marianna, go north on State Road 71. A Wal-Mart is on the corner at right. (Note that the southern part of 71 that leadsto I-10 is down the road to the west.) After about a mile, past the farme quipment building, Blue Spring Road forks off to the right. Go about 3 miles and you will see the sign to Blue Springs Recreation Area on the right.
The circular spring basin lies in a depression and is approximately 250 feet in diameter. Water issues from a large (8 feet high by 30 feet wide) and accessible cave opening. There is an underwater cavern at the spring that extends several thousand feet. The water forms the 4.4-mile-long Merritt's Mill Pond and is dotted by several springs (see below). The southern end of the pond is dammed at U.S. 90 and can be seen while driving through Marianna.
A fence divides the spring area from the pond and prevents boat access into the spring basin. The water is clear and blue over the cave entrance, which is directly beneath the dive platform and diving board about 15 feet deep. Much of the bottom in the spring pool is sandy, but there are also areas of elodea/hydrilla intrusion in the center of the pool and near the fence that separates the pool from the "Pond." Swimming and diving in the spring can cloud the water.
The beach area above the spring is sandy, but does not extend down to the water and has a wooden barrier (railroad ties) to help keep sand from eroding into the spring basin.
Land in the spring's watershed, which extends into Alabama, is about 50/50 agriculture and forest. Water tests indicate that Jackson Blue Spring has the second highest concentration of nitrates in its water of any first magnitude spring in Florida--3 mg/liter. Tests indicate that half the nitrate is absorbed or sinks to the bottom in the 4-mile pond. In addition, the spring areas has the most strongly inorganic isotype ratio of any measured spring. On visits in 2000-2003, the water was more greenish than blue, and there were higher concentrations of algae on the bottom. It is estimated that water flowing out of the main vent has flowed underground for approximately 17 years, meaning that efforts to reduce nitrate intrusions in the springs head will not have any impact for 17 years.
The spring is one of the few sites that is home to the Georgia blind salamander; Shangri-La Spring (100 yards downstream) is another.
- For many years, the spring was operated by a church group, and then by Jackson County. In the late 1990s, the State of Florida acquired the springand over 400 acres of land surrounding it and the run/Merrit's Mill Pond. As of January 2002, the state was continuing to allow Jackson County run the recreation area at the spring. The area is open for swimming and related recreation from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Click here for information.
- The spring area has been brought up to DEP standards for state recreation areas and has bathrooms, a volleyball court, basketball hoops, a beach area, a floating platform with a slide, a playground, a platform/diving board over the spring vent, and a dock area below the spring pool where small boats may be docked and canoes can be rented. One can also put in at a boat ramp approximately 1.5 miles downstream and paddle to the spring.
- Right below the diving platform is the cave gushing forth a strong stream of water. The water issues forth with such force that if you dive down near the cave, you can let the stream push you out toward the platform in the middle of the swim area. You can swim out to the floating platform, get warm, then jump back into the chilly water. Two other slides--one small and one large--provide an aquatic playground.
- In the early 2000s the State of Florida spent $80,000 annually to treat/controlexotic plants in Merritt's Millpond with a liquid herbicide. This application does kill hydrilla and other plants, but must be used repeatedly. After the first use of the herbicide, the ubiquitious crawfish in the spring and millpond were virtually extirpated and have not returned. There are still apple snails in the run, which is surprising because they disappeared from Wakulla River when nitrate levels were much lower. In another strategy to reduce the volume of exotic plants, exotic large (up to 30") carp were introduced. The carp, which have been genetically modified so that they cannot reproduce, feed on the hydrilla and congregated around the spring vent in the winter months.
- The area around Jackson Blue Spring was first settled in 1825.
- Vultures roost in the trees near the spring in large numbers (i.e., upto several hundred) and can be seen in the morning and late afternoon.
- Once-large populations of crawfish and apple snails have virtually disappeared from the spring are and the run. Rising levels of nitrate are the likely cause, although the herbicide used on the hydrilla may also be a factor. Limkin, which fed on the apple snails, have also disappeared.
- It is estimated that the spring puts out an astonishing/appalling 590 tons of nitrate each year that has leached into its watershed.
- Hydrilla has been a major problem in the spring and its 4.4-mile run. The area has been treated with a defoliant spray that has killed the hydrilla while sparing the native eel grass, tape grass, and duckweed. When visiting the spring in December 2001 and again in June 2003 and 2012, JF saw almost no fish in the spring or the run.
- There is algae in the spring and run, the the lower run is greenish and not as clear due--most likely--to nitrate from a nearby golf course and septic tanks at houses along/near the pond.
- Jackson County residents decided not to locate a sprayfield near the spring after an education campaign was conducted about the spring and the impact the sprayfield could have on it.
As noted in the essay, this spring was JF's favorite place for swimming in the Florida Big Bend. The spring is heavily and increasingly polluted, however, and measures to reduce the proliferation of exotic plants havehad deadly side effects on native fauna. To save the spring from further degredation and the possibility that it would eventually have to be closed to swimming and fishing, the state and county must work together to promote the adoption of best management practices by nearby farms anda golf course, and clean-up efforts in sinkholes that feed the spring. The local community is beginning to take notice that its longtime swimming hole is in trouble and to take efforts to protect it.
- Blue Hole Spring
- Other Merritt's Mill Pond Springs (Shangri-La, Twin Caves, Gator, IndianWashtub, Hole-in-the-Rock, Gator)
- Baltzell (or Bosel or Bozell) Springs group
- Spring Lake Springs (Black, Double, Gadsen [or Gadsden], Millpond, Springboard)
- Sandbag Spring
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Three Rivers State Park
- Falling Water State Park
- Torreya State Park
- Florida Caverns State Park
- Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve
An Essay on Marianna Blue Spring
Note: this essay was written when the spring still had its dive tower.
Where is the best place to swim in the Big Bend? Grayton? Destin? Wakulla Springs? St. Andrews? St. George? Nope. For me, none of these places compares to Blue Springs Park in Marianna. Located an hour north of Panama City and 75 minutes west of Tallahassee, Marianna Blue Springs has it all, plus non-stop country music as an added bonus.
The springs have been a swimmin' hole for generations of Jackson Countians. Originally, the spring flows formed a narrow run that joined the Chipola River just below where U.S. 90 now runs through Marianna. Years ago, the run was dammed, creating Merritt's MillPond which is 4.4 miles long and about 200 yards across. The pond is popular with anglers, and there are fish camps and a campground on the west bank.But it is the swimming that places the spring a cut above. A large circular pool 150 feet across lies in a natural depression and forms the headwaters. A rock and sandbag retaining wall frames the pool and prevents erosion. The water averages a few feet deep and is [long was] absolutely transparent. Its source is a first-magnitude spring that flows powerfully from a large-mouth cave directly under the diving platform. Water over the cave is a very deep and enticing blue.
Determined snorkelers can explore the cave entrance and glimpse a cold, dark, underwater world. Getting into the cave takes a bit of effort. One must fight the strong outflow from the cave, be able to hold a breath for a minute or so, and time the dive so as not to be squashed by cannonballers from the platform above. A minivan could easily drive into the cave entrance, which is populated by large fish that scurry into the cave recesses when approached.
Watching from the platform, I marveled at a boy who spent three minutes in the cave. Coming up, he explained there was an air pocket stocked by skin-divers with air-filled milk jugs. Sticking one's head into the bucket-sized pocket of stale air is much more unnerving than the cave itself. Light and sound are distorted in the small space,and you get less air with each breath.
The swim area offers tubes, large and small slides, and a floating island in the middle. As is typical for a north Florida spring, the water temperature is about 68 degrees, and many who swim out to the floating island are loath to return to the water after warming up.
There is a volleyball area, and picnic tables and grills provide platforms for fun, food, and generally hanging out all day long. The structures on the site have been there at least 40 years, and the place has a very old-timey feel about it. The park is ideal for kids of all ages, from toddlers who splash in the shallows to elementary schoolers searching for crawdads and daring each other to jump from the platform to teens scoping each other out and trying to make the biggest splash.
A fence keeps boats out of the swim area, and if you have a canoe you can explore the pond. Four other springs lie within a five-minute paddle of the main spring. The nearest is the best. Aptly named Shangri-La, it is a strikingly beautiful spring that issues from a shallow crevice at the base of a 30-foot limestone bluff. The peaceful translucent flow soothes every sense, and a social trail to the bluff above offers a panoramic view.
A little further down are Indian Washtub and Twin Cave springs. The latter lies among a scenic watery grove of cypress. The park costs $4 per person, but it is only open from Memorial Day to LaborDay. Our summer is not complete without a visit every year; unwinding at this simple and lovely spring has become an annual family pilgrimage.