- Scale - 1st magnitude
- Scenery - very good to outstanding
- How Pristine? - adjacent to docks and buildings; otherwise unspoiled
- Swimming - poor to fair, fine snorkeling
- Protection - excellent
- Wildlife - very good
- Crowds - none
- Access - very good; only by boat
- Facilities - fair
- Safety - good
- Scuba - yes
- Cost - $5 launch fee, $15 canoe rental fee
From Tallahassee, take U.S. 319 south to State Road 267. Turn left (SE), then turn right (south) on State Road 365. Take until it dead-ends at the village of Spring Creek. Turn east (left) on Ben Willis Road, just in front of Spring Creek Restaurant, and follow ¼ mile to the end where there is a large modern house on stilts and a parking area. The office is on the left side of the house, on the first floor. If no one is in the office, climb to the top and ring the doorbell. The owner, Hal Council, rents canoes—four hours for $13. You can put in your own boat here for $3. For directions to individual springs, see the descriptions below.
A number of submarine springs–at least a dozen, perhaps more–lie along a one-mile estuarine stretch of Spring Creek. Spring Creek, which begins approximately two miles north of this section, empties into Oyster Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The surrounding land is a combination of shore development (permanent and vacation homes, boathouses, buildings) and pristine marshland and is tidally affected. The springs are in the main channel, along its edges, and in side pools and inlets that have been extended into manmade channels for boats to reach Spring Creek from houses in the neighborhood.
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Stevenson & Rupert, 2000), the combined flow from the 8 identified and other unidentified springs in Spring Creek exceeds 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). This output is nearly 250% greater than any other single spring or spring group in Florida and is equivalent to more than 1.25 billion gallons a day.
Rosenau et al., whose 1970s measurements are still used for the discharge of springs in Spring Creek, accounts for 893 cfs (or about 44%) of the total spring flow in Spring Creek as coming from the Stuart Cove area of the Spring Creek estuary. None of the 9 springs described below are in Stuart Cove, and Rosenau et al. do not describe a single spring in this area. There would have to be several very large springs feeding Stuart Cove to produce such an abundance (nearly 600 million gallons per day) of water, yet there are only two known spring in Stuart Cove, and their flow is not that large.
Wildlife observed near the springs included mallards, cormorants, mullet, swifts, osprey, gulls, pelicans, and swallows. No-see-ums (sand flies) were felt but not observed. Most of the land adjacent to the Creek consisted of saltmarsh cordgrass, although cypress and hardwoods line the eastern banks in the northern section of this spring area.
An excellent overall description of this area is provided by Lane (2001):
The Spring Creek Springs Group is comprised of at least 13 submarine springs situated in the mouth of Spring Creek and adjacent Stuart Cove, along the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Wakulla County, Florida. Combined flow of the group is about 2,000 cubic feet per second. The springs are fed by conduits, likely developed along fractures in the underlying carbonates. Analysis of local fracture trends suggests that one surface water source of the spring flow is Lost Creek, a stream captured by a sinkhole about six miles northwest of the springs. Regional groundwater of the Floridan aquifer system also supplies a portion of the total spring flow. Seismic surveys and depth-recorder profiles were conducted across 12 of the springs. The springs' cross-sectional profiles show them to be cone-shaped sinks, typical of springs developed in Florida karst. Water chemistry date collected at nine of the springs showed variation suggestive of mixing and possibly differing surface and groundwater sources for the springs. All the springs exhibit pulsating flow, alternating surges of boiling surface turbulence caused by rapidly upwelling water, followed by relatively quiescent flow. This suggests that the complex comduit system supplying the springs may be influenced by local recharge events and by tidal surge (p. 1).
The following numeric designations correspond to the above map and are derived from Lane and using his numbering system.
#1--Spring Creek Rise: From the boat ramp, turn right (north) into Spring Creek and proceed about 350 yards to the point where State Road 365 dead-ends at the water. The spring is directly in front of a 75-foot dock paralleling the water and is just a few feet offshore. There is a seawall behind the floating dock.
In the authors' three visits, the spring has had very different appearances. During a visit in the mid-1990s, the spring had a strong boil about 35 feet in diameter. The boil rose several inches above the general water surface and flowed in surges. In 1999, the spring was observed reversing at high tide and was fringed with trash/garbage drawn to the mild vortex. In October 2000 and again in fall 2002, during a low tide, no flow was visible. The spring opening has been measured at 100 feet deep. Visibility is about three feet. According to Lane, it is possible to see a limsetone ledge during times of very low water. He also notes that "several round, karst pipes were noted in the limestone that floors the shallow stream bed surrounding the spring's basin; they were about one foot in diameter and were filled with dark sediment" (p. 17, 2002).
Spring Creek #2 is approximately 175 yards upriver from Spring #1. Continue a short distance up Spring Creek, then keep to the right into a channelized spring run fringed with homes and boathouses. Once in the side channel, a large upwelling will be visible toward the left side just before a fork in the channel.
The spring is large (20-25 feet in diameter) with a powerful boil at low tide. The force of the flow requires steady paddling to hold a canoe over it. Note: on date of visit (October 2000), there were two partially submerged boats in this channel a short distance below the spring; the vent could be seen from the submerged boats. Another wrecked boat was against the shore behind the spring. Water was only about 3 feet deep at the fringes of the spring, but the depth, size, and shape of the orifice could not be determined from the surface. According to Lane, the basin for this spring is the largest of any in the Spring Creek group, and it is 90 feet deep (2002, p. 17)
The flow of this spring suggests that it is of first magnitude—at least 64.6 mgd. Visibility was three feet. On dates of visit, a mature cypress tree just behind the spring had a large nest—a nest most likely used by an eagle or an osprey. An osprey was sighted in October 2000.
Spring Creek #3 is near #2 and further in the same channel. At the aforementioned fork in the channel, take the right fork and paddle perhaps 100 feet around to the left to the pool for spring #3. On first date of visit (October 2000), this fork was nearly blocked by a large moored boat; there was only space for a small boat or canoe to transit (it was not blocked in 2002). The spring pool is circular and about 60 feet in diameter. There is a visible boil line that suggests a long and narrow fissure that goes across the basin. There is a concrete wall around the back of the spring, suggesting it may have been used in the past as a bathing or swimming area. As with Spring #2, visibility was limited and the depth of the vent or vents could not be determined. At low tide, the spring had a strong boil, but not as pronounced as that of Spring #2. The flow from this spring appears to be of high second magnitude or low first magnitude. According to Lane, this pool floor of this spring drops sharply to a depth of 40 feet (p. 17, 2002).
Spring Creek #4 is almost directly offshore from the dead-end of State Road 365 in lies in the middle of Spring Creek. It was not identified visually on date of visit (October 2000). Its location, marked in Rosenau et al. (1977, p. 450), was pointed out and confirmed by men working on the nearby dock of Lee Spears. However, it could not be seen. The photograph shows the location of this spring. According to Lane, "the spring's basin appears to be elongated in a NW-SE direction, with a steep conical pool over its orifice" (2002, p. 17).
Spring Creek #5 is located approximately 150 feet from the Spears dock about 100 yards from Spring #4. It was not visible on date of visit (October 2000).
Spring Creek #6 is about 2/3 mile downstream from Spring #1 in the Spring Creek channel on the left/west side. The authors could not see a boil or slick for this spring on dates of visit. Lane notes that the spring "appears to have a relatively small, cone-shaped pool, about 15 feet deep" (2002, p. 17).
Spring Creek #7 is just upriver of Spring #6 and in the center of Spring Creek. The authors did not see any evidence of its flow on dates of visit.
Spring Creek #8 is a larger alcove/basin that is perhaps 100 yards downstream from the mouth of the basin for Spring Creek #6. The spring basin is perhaps 150 feet in diameter and circular. As with #6, it is surrounded by marsh and reeds. The spring is in the back third of the pool in the center, and has a large and gentle boil. As with the other spring in this area, the water was shallow at the fringes of the vent, but dropped off out of sight near the orifice(s). Visibility was about three feet at low tide. This spring would likely be more difficult to spot in high tide. Lane notes the spring is 45 feet deep (2002, p. 17).
Spring Creek #9 is a few hundred feet straight out (WSW) of Spring Creek #1 in the middle of Spring Creek. It was not visible to the authors on dates of visit, but presented to Lane as a large surface boil 30 feet in diameter and with a depth of 30 feet. He noted it was the only spring discharging muddy water (2002, p. 17).
Spring Creek #10 is about .85 mile downstream of Spring #1. From the boat ramp, enter Spring Creek and turn downstream (left). Keep near the left shore and travel 300-400 yards, passing a narrow manmade channel on the left. A short distance past this channel is a second channel. Just before the second channel is a channel marker with the number "38" on it. Turn into the second channel, which has a natural basin/alcove formed by Spring Creek #10. The spring is in the back half of the basin, slightly to the left/north of center. At the very back of the basin, another manmade channels extends back NE to the nearby neighborhood. The basin is oval and about 80 by 100 feet in diameter. Lane notes this spring is 45 feet deep (2002, p. 17).
Spring Creek #11 is located directly out (SW) in Spring Creek from Spring #6, perhaps 80 yards away. It lies in the middle of the creek. On date of visit (October 2000) it had a very big flow and produced a large (30 foot) spread of slicks at low tide. At high tide, the spring may not be visible. The depth of the vents could not be determined visually.
Spring Creek Springs #s 12-13 are located near the center of Stuart Cove, less than 100 feet apart and with boils that nearly reach each other. Each creates a large (20-30 foot wide) slick and has sides that drop sharply (Lane, 2002, pp. 17, 19). The authors have not visited these springs.
On dates of visit (October 2000 and fall 2002), at low tide, Spring Creek #10 presented the greatest flow spectacle that the authors have ever witnessed. The boil from the spring was not only plainly visible from a low-to-the-water canoe more than 100 yards away, it was also plainly audible from that distance. The primary boil area was 25 feet in diameter. The flow was always pronounced–a couple of inches above the general surface–but at intervals of every 6-10 seconds was greatly magnified by surges/eruptions of water up to a foot high and 10-15 feet across. These fluid upheavals made loud rushing and splashing sounds. The force of the flow was such that constant effort was required to hold the canoe over the vent. Visibility at the spring was about three feet, and the depth of the spring could not be ascertained. The flow is certainly first-magnitude—at least 64.6 mgd.
The intervallic eruption of this spring reminded JF William Bartram's 1773 description of Manatee Springs. Bartram's words almost perfectly capture what the authors witnessed 227 years later at Spring Creek #10:
It is worth noting that Manatee Springs no longer flows as Bartram described it.
- The only ready access to Spring Creek is by boat. The map above may be used to search for many of the springs. However, flow, water clarity, tidal, rainfall, and other weather variations dictate the visibility of the springs as noted in the above descriptions. Visiting at low tide and in dry conditions (10/2000), the authors were able to see only five of the nine springs for which they had precise directions. Locating all or even a majority of the springs requires time, timing, patience, energy, luck, and the right conditions.
- Some of the springs, especially, #s 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7, are used for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
- As submarine springs, the vents at Spring Creek are subject to tidal action and can reverse when the tide is high. Scuba diving should be approached with caution under such conditions.
- The ban on net fishing put many fishermen in the area out of business. Some of the old buildings at Spring Creek are dilapidated. While the best-known spring in this group is just offshore of the dead end, a fence prevents viewing it from the land.
- In nearly all seasons, sand flies (or no-see-ums) can be a major annoyance. Only the most masochistic visitor would not wear repellent. The pests were out in great force when the authors visited in the afternoon and evening of October 20, 2000.
- Lee Spears, owner of Spears Seafood, and his family have lived at Spring Creek for several generations. The authors were told that Mr. Spears' father founded the village. Mr. Spears was still living on the site when the authors visited in 2000. He was mentioned in the 1977 Springs of Florida (Rosenau et al., p. 448) as having originally identified and investigated several of the springs in the Spring Creek area.
- According to Mr. Spears (1977, p. 448), unusual weather conditions can make the springs reverse flow as well discharge freshwater fish and land debris.
- In 1998, former Florida Governor Claude Kirk proposed tapping the flow of the main spring at Spring Creek and piping the water to other areas of Florida where fresh water is less plentiful. The idea was not adopted. Lane notes that such a step would "threaten the tenuous balance among the surface water and groundwater regimes, as well as the ecosystems associated with Spring Creek and Stuart Cove" (2002, p. 29).
- Although more new and expensive houses are being built on the site, in 2000 the area still had a very rustic quality and was not heavily developed. The State of Florida owns the springs and creek, and much of the area is simply (and fortunately) too marshy to be developed. From the lower end of Spring Creek, the far more developed Shell Point is visible with its half-million-dollar homes stacked nearly atop one another.
The authors were astonished and thrilled by the powerful flows they witnessed at Spring Creek. Before witnessing such liquid effusion, they were somewhat skeptical at the flow figures attributed to this springs group. Their doubts vanished in an hour of paddling.
The authors were equally surprised that Spring Creek #1 was invisible on the same date that Springs 2, 3, 6, & 7 were so obvious. They stood in the canoe at Spring #1, directly over where they had each seen it before (either flowing or reversing), and looked at the calm water for several minutes like a pair of idiots! Spring Creek is must-see for any spring aficionado, but like a box of chocolates, you never know what you will get.
- Panacea Mineral Springs
- Newport Spring
- Wakulla Springs
- Sally Ward Spring
- Shepherd Spring
- McBride Spring
Nearby Natural Features
- Leon County Sinks Park
- Apalachicola National Forest
- Wakulla Spring State Park
- St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
An Essay on Spring Creek
30 miles and a world away from Tallahassee is a little hamlet on the edge – of land and sea, of fresh and briny water, and of old and new worlds. It is an unassuming place, within which, most improbably, rises the world's largest known concentration of submarine springs.
Spring Creek is due south of Florida's capital city. If north really were up, the way it appears on a map, a stone dropped from Tallahassee would land in the Gulf Mexico here. Getting to Spring Creek is a pleasant drive down either Woodville or Crawfordville Highways. Once on U.S. 98, take State Road 365 south until it goes no further – Spring Creek is literally the end of the road.
Most people who know about Spring Creek do so because they have dined at the Spring Creek Restaurant. This eatery specializes in seafood caught in the nearby creek and bays and hauled into the kitchen from a dock a few yards away. It's not a fancy place, but the food is good and there are lots of fiberglass fish on the walls.
Spring Creek was settled by the Spears family – of Spears Seafood – and the descendents still live on the site and work the waters for fish. The highway, in fact, stops right in front of a couple of old buildings from the family business. The ramshackle structures give the place an old-timely look. Downscale and upscale homes cluster nearby, accessed by dusty roads. There are also rental properties along the canals that lead into the Creek, as locals call it.
Looking over the water, you may wonder where the creek is; at this point the river forms a marshy estuary and is reminiscent of the South Carolina low country. Beginning a couple of miles inland, Spring Creek is in its final half mile alongside this community named for it. It has saved all its jewels for last, however, so hang a left at the restaurant, rent or put in your boat at the ramp, and start looking for springs.
Go upriver to a dock behind the fence at the end of SR 365. One of the biggest springs in Florida is roiling right beneath you, pushing out perhaps several hundred million gallons a day of fresh water into the murky creek. After storms, this spring can be observed vomiting up plants, freshwater fish, and even garbage from some unknown inland location. At high tide, it reverses and flows backward in a siphon. Former Governor Claude Kirk recently proposed tapping this spring and piping its water to thirstier areas of Florida. The idea was not adopted.
Carry on upstream into the first inlet on the right. Sunken boats lie in the channel; directly behind them and under an eagle’s nest is another huge spring, spreading a powerful slick 25 feet across. Just to the right around the corner is a third spring in a large canopied alcove.
Downstream, there are two more springs in the creek off the end of the highway, but they are often difficult to spot. While spring hunting, watch for ducks, cormorants, mullet, osprey, gulls, pelicans, and swallows; you may glimpse a bald eagle as well. No-see-ums are also abundant, but are more felt than observed.
Most of the land adjacent to the Creek consists of black needlerush. Look for two manmade channels on the left below the boat ramp. The second channel arrows back from a natural alcove created by a spring that presents the greatest flow spectacle I have ever witnessed.
When I visited at low tide, this spring's flow was not only plainly visible more than 100 yards away, it was also plainly audible from that distance. The primary boil area was 30 feet in diameter. The flow was always pronounced – a couple of inches above the general surface – but at intervals of 6-10 seconds was greatly magnified by eruptions of water up to a foot high. These fluid upheavals made loud rushing and splashing sounds. The force of the flow was such that constant effort was required to hold the canoe over the vent.
Other springs are downstream – there are likely at least 14 altogether – and one can explore for hours in this pristine estuary. This string of submarine springs puts out 1.25 billion gallons of fresh water daily. But be sure to visit at low tide. Visibility in the water is only about three feet, and springs that are titanic at low tide may be invisible when the water is higher.