The Save the St. Johns Team and partners paddling on the Ocklawaha River
We started out our day with a meeting at Silver Springs State Park with numerous environmental leaders that included: Guy Marwick, Executive Director of the Felburn Foundation; Dr. Katie Tripp with Save the Manatee; Thomas Hawkins, Executive Director of Florida Defenders of the Environment; Dr. Robert Knight, Executive Director of the Florida Springs Institute; and Robin Lewis, wetland scientist and President of Lewis Environmental Services.
We discussed the major pollution problems and threats impacting the health of our springs, the solutions to these problems, the benefits of restoring the Ocklawaha, and how we can all work together to protect our imperiled water resources. After spending the morning on the banks of the Silver River strategizing and planning with these passionate and knowledgeable conservation experts, we left energized and optimistic about the prospects of collaborating to help restore our springs and the Ocklawaha.
Silver Springs State Park was the perfect place to begin this tour day before heading to the Ocklawaha for a paddling excursion with guide Lars Anderson and Adventure Outpost. One of Florida's most iconic natural treasures and a National Natural Landmark, Silver Springs has experienced dramatic declines in flow and increases in nitrate levels in recent years. Silver Springs provides on average about half of the discharge of the Ocklawaha River, the largest tributary of the St. Johns River. In turn, these waterways provide a critical source of freshwater for the St. Johns, illustrating the interconnected nature of our groundwater, springs, tributaries, and rivers. Pollution problems that impact one can cause damage to them all.
Next, we headed to the Ocklawaha for a paddle from Gore Landing to the Eureka West boat ramp. We were joined by a great group of folks that included Whitey Markle from the Sierra Club, Karen Chadwick with the Putnam County Environmental Council, and Kathy Vaughn with St. Johns Riverkeeper's River Patrol volunteer group. The Team enjoyed the beauty and tranquility of the river, as we imagined what it must have been like when the massive old growth cypress trees still lined the banks, the Ocklawaha flowed free, and steamboats of tourists plied its narrow, winding waters during the 1800's.
After the paddle and dinner, we retired to our cabins at the Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost & Resort in Ft. McCoy to reflect on this productive and inspirational day and catch up on some much-needed sleep.