The Panhandle Outdoors LIVE team, with Extension Agents from eight counties, hosted an outdoor field day on August 26, 2015. Twenty-three participants from over eight counties in Florida attended the event and traveled to three local springs: Vortex, Ponce de Leon, and Morrison Springs. The goal of the day was to learn about spring characteristics, history, biodiversity and management issues. These popular springs in the western Panhandle are managed by three different entities – the private sector, local government and a state agency.
The day began at Vortex Springs. Three generations of the same family have owned and managed this popular dive resort in the Panhandle. The current owners shared the history of the spring along with a family photo album highlighting the growth and development over the years.
Vortex Spring produces 28 million gallons of crystal clear water daily at a year-round temperature of 68 degrees. Depths in the spring basin range from about 50 feet for a cavern dive and up to 115 feet for a cave dive. The bottom of the spring bowl is sandy, with limestone near the vent. Vortex waters flow out of the 225-foot-diameter spring pool to form Blue Creek, which flows over a half-mile before entering the Choctawhatchee River. Fish at the spring are tame, coming right up to visitors, and include bluegills, channel catfish, American freshwater eels, gar, redhorse suckers, shadow bass, and exotic species such as koi and goldfish (floridasprings.org). One of the biggest environmental challenges the owners face is controlling an invasive aquatic plant, hydrilla, which rings the basin.
The next stop was Ponce de Leon Springs State Park where participants learned about the springs and had lectures on water quality, Florida Friendly landscapes and storm water management. Managed by a state agency, this beautiful spring is named for Juan Ponce de León, who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513 – as legend has it – in search of the “Fountain of Youth”. Visitors might well regain their youth by taking a dip in the clear waters where the temperature is a shocking 68 degrees F. year-round.
The main spring produces 14 million gallons of water daily into a crescent-shaped basin with depths averaging five feet but increasing to 16 feet over the vents. The bottom is sand and limestone and gives the popular swimming area a light greenish blue appearance. The spring-run is approximately 350 feet in length and flows into Sandy Creek, a blackwater stream, which subsequently flows out of the park and into the Choctawhatchee River (floridasprings.org).
Our final destination was Morrison Springs. Morrison Springs is managed by Walton County, whose Commissioner and Habitat Conservation Plan Coordinator shared the history of the springs and the development work that has been completed. The large, sandy-bottomed spring is surrounded by a 161-acre park and is a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, diving, birding, photography and nature walks . Morrison Spring discharges an average of 48 million gallons of crystal-clear water each day to create a 250-foot-diameter spring pool and a spring run that flows into the Choctawhatchee River (floridasprings.org). The springs are home to a healthy fish population with largemouth bass, bluegill, carp, white mullet, and pickerel all being seen that day.
Field day participants (86%) reported an increase in knowledge of the springs after the event with 59% indicating that they would change their behavior based on the information presented. Behavior changes mentioned were cleaning up trash, controlling personal fertilizer applications, making sure their lawn care company was certified, controlling erosion, conserving water and planting native plants. All of the participants (100%) reported being interested in attending future Panhandle Outdoor Live events. That is just the kind of encouragement the team needed, so be sure to watch our website for future event announcements.