|Summary of Features
Manatees in spring run
Manatees in spring run
Boardwalk along upper spring run
Mouth of spring run at St. Johns River
Thursby House atop ancient shell mound
Directions (address and phone: 2100 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL 32763, 386-775-3663)
In Orange City along U.S. 17/U.S. 92, turn west onto French Avenue at sign for Blue Spring State Park and proceed about two miles to the park entrance. Follow park road to spring run and walk on boardwalk to springhead. Web link with map: www.floridastateparks.org/park/Blue-Spring
The spring forms a circular pool formed by a large underwater cavern. The pool is 100 feet in diameter, and the water is blue and clear. Water flowing upward from the cavern opening creates a large and powerful boil on the surface. The banks and sides of the pool are steep and form a funnel leading to the cavern entrance, which has a large limestone shelf at a depth of about 10 feet. The large part of the opening extends down about 40 feet. The run is nearly as wide as the spring pool and flows about 1/4 mile to the St. Johns River, widening as it nears the river. Flow from the spring is currently about 146 million gallons a day, and has declined since the 1980s due to drawdowns from many wells in the area. The nitrate concentration in the water is 0.6 and rising (Fla. DEP, May, 2002).
Land rises steeply from the spring and run to a height of nearly 20 feet. There is very thick and lush subtropical vegetation around the spring and the run, including, cypress, pine, oak, laurel, magnolia, and maple trees. Manatees congregate in the run in large numbers in the winter. Fish, including bass, catfish, and perch, may be observed in the pool and run.
- The spring is the focus of the 2,600 acre Blue Spring State Park, which offers swimming, snorkeling, scuba, trails (including a 4-mile loop), an historic site, camping (51 sites, 27 with electric, plus additional primitive camping), cabins (6, fully equipped), picnicking, restrooms, boating, a boathouse, fishing, canoeing, tubing, river cruises, concessions, and nature study.
- There is an excellent boardwalk from the parking area to the spring. It goes along the spring run through a very dense subtropical forest/hammock.
- From November-March, when Manatees frequent the spring and its run, no boats or canoes are allowed in the run. During this time of year, swimmers may only swim in the spring boil area only if manatees are in the run. Many people come to see the manatees in the winter. Up to 150 manatees at a time congregate in the spring and its run.
- Signs warn of alligators in the park.
- The spring and its run were used by the Tumucuan Indians for hundreds of years, and their shelll mounds can still be seen in the park.
- Blue Spring was visited and described by John Bartram (father of William Bartram, who immortalized Florida's springs a generation later) on January 4, 1766. It may be the earliest surviving description of a Florida spring. The senior Bartram reported that the spring "boils up with great force" (Fla. DEP, May 2002).
- In 1872, a mansion was built on top of a large shell mound. The "Thursby House" is still on the site and may be seen by visitors to the park. It is open to visitors one weekend each January. There used to be a boat landing by the house.
- A rail spur from Orange City came to the steamboat landing at the mouth of the Blue Spring run in 1881 (Fla. DEP, May 2002).
- Blue Spring is the largest spring along the St. Johns River, with an average flow of 162 cfs or 105 million gallons a day.
- From the park's web page: "Gold Rush prospector turned orange-grower Louis Thursby purchased Blue Spring in 1856. Before the railroad rolled through in the 1880s, Thursby's Blue Spring Landing was a hotbed of steamboat activity, shipping tourists and goods to Jacksonville and beyond. Mrs. Thursby was Orange City's first postmistress. 'The Forgotten Mermaids,' an episode of the Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau, was filmed here in 1971. The documentary brought attention to the manatee and the importance of Blue Spring as a winter refuge, greatly influencing the state's decision to purchase the land."
- Before Blue Spring came into state hands, unregulated use caused severe erosion on the site, damaging the spring and clouding the water. There is almost no evidence of the erosion today, and the water is very clear again. The boardwalk protects the banks very effectively.
- In addition to manatees, wild turkeys and foxes may be seen in the park.
- In earlier days, the spring and run were developed with several houses and docks, and there was significant erosion. After the showing of a film by Jacques Cousteau in 1966, a groundswell of support rose to "save" the spring and the manatees that used it. The state purchased the site and has been working the early 1970s to restore it to a more natural condition. Today, the area looks very pristine, and there is little evidence of the past development. Park officials speculate that the large increase in use of the site by manatees is a direct result of the protection and restoration efforts.
- In his 1869 description of a winter tour of Florida, Ledyard Bill visited Blue Spring and described it as follows:
It is perhaps the largest spring in the State: the quantity of water which issues from it in one hour is
enormous. It forms a river in itself, 150 feet wide and 6 deep, sufficiently large to
admit the passage of a considerable craft. The water boils up out of the earth as though from a boiling
cauldron of four-score feet across. An excursion party from Jacksonville tried to row a boat into the
center of the this boiling kettle, in order to take soundings, but were foiled, after several earnest efforts, in
consequence of the violent motion of the elevated surface (p. 137).
Walking along the boardwalk to the spring provides a glimpse of how wild Florida appeared to its early inhabitants and explorers. The landscape is deep jungle, with the spring in its center like a great blue eye amidst the riot of green and brown. It is one of Florida's most spectacular springs, and remains a critical winter habitat for the endangered manatee.
Apopka Spring, Blue Spring, Camp La No Che Spring, Clifton Spring, Health Spring, Messant Spring, Miami Spring, Palm Spring, Rock Spring, Sanlando Spring, Starbuck Spring, Wekiwa Spring
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Wekiwa Springs State Park
- Rock Springs Run State Preserve
- Hontoon Island State Park
- Ocala National Forest