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Be cool at the springs

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Hot weather brings out crowds

By Jenna McKenna

The water is finally clear and blue in Fanning and Manatee springs, now that the Suwannee River is returning to bed at last. Blue Spring, at the headwaters of the tiny Waccasassa, fared very well through the spring flooding. The little Wekiva, at Henry Beck Park, is also clear and fresh this summer. As the mercury hammers the top of the thermometer day after day, the springs of Levy County are open and beckoning.

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Blue Spring and Henry Beck are county parks, open from April 1 to September 30. Fanning and Manatee Springs are state parks, open 365 days a year. The spring pools in the state parks are only closed to swimmers when there are hazardous conditions, such as flooding.

Florida's springs are a miracle and a delight, forcing clear, fresh, 72-degree water up through their vents at the rate of up to 100 million or more gallons per day, as in the case of first-magnitude Manatee Springs. Nearby Fanning Springs is now graded a strong second magnitude spring, as are Blue Spring and Wekiva Spring, which feeds the Wekiva River, with lower discharge levels than Manatee, but plenty of clean, refreshing water.

Many first time visitors to the springs express worries about alligators and snakes. While it's always good to be cautious about these full-time residents, they are generally shy and prefer to stay away from people. Visitors to Manatee Springs may frequently see the gentle giants in the spring run and, in colder months, even up in the swimming pool. The range of watchable wildlife is amazing, from a huge variety to fish in the springs to the large wading birds – egrets, herons and ibises – that ply the shallows, as well as anhingas and pelicans that dive and skim the surface for food.

Fanning Springs State Park is north of Chiefland in Fanning Springs, on U.S. Highway 19 just east of the Suwannee River Bridge. Manatee Springs State Park is located at the western end of State Road 320, six miles west of U.S. 19. Blue Spring is just west of Bronson, at the south end of County Road 339A, south of U.S. Highway 27A. Henry Beck Park is on County Road 343 just east of Gulf Hammock and can be reached by taking CR 343 south from Bronson or County Road 326 east from U.S. 19 in Gulf Hammock.

For more information about springs in local state parks, call 352-463-3420 for Fanning Springs and 493-6072 for Manatee Springs. For springs in county parks, call 486-3303 for Blue Springs and 486-5326 for Henry Beck Park.