Crystal Springs: 2012 FNPS Conference Venue

Our FNPS 2012 Conference "Saving the Heart of Florida" is well into its development phase. We have several exiting venues for our social events, but one of them, Crystal Springs, is special to me because of its beauty and history. We will have exclusive access to this site for our Saturday night social event.

Most people think of the Hillsborough River as a blackwater stream, one dark and tea colored due to tannins in the water. We say it begins in the Green Swamps. It does, as seepage and as an overflow from the Withlacoochee River. As such, it is usually a narrow creek that swells to substantial size only during periods of very high rainfall.  But the upper river is also a spring-run stream. Crystal Spring, a second magnitude spring, provides most of the typical daily flow for the Upper Hillsborough River.

Crystal Spring has a long local history. Once, it existed only as a series of seepage springs, and local kids had a swimming hole on the river downstream, but not at the springs. The spring as it exists today was created in the early 1900s by blasting out the area of seeps to form a single pool. This was not unusual, the pools some of our better known springs, such as Juniper Spring in Ocala National Forest, also were also created this way. The spring then spent a long history of local use as a swimming hole and private recreation park. As you can imagine, while the spring had crystal blue water, the edges were highly disturbed.

As the owner told me, they got tired of "picking up used diapers" and otherwise cleaning up after bathers. So the owners took on restoration of the spring and converting the former recreation area into an education center. They hired an environmentally oriented manager, and set off to clean up the weeds and plant the area around the spring back to Florida native plants. They also refurbished the boardwalk that crosses the outfall into the Hillsborough River.

When I last saw the spring, it was a stellar example of restoration and of landscaping with Florida natives. People will get to stroll by the clear (135 ft wide) pool that has multiple spring vents and scattered sand boils. The bottom of the spring pool is limestone and sand that reflect turquoise light and support aquatic grasses. There are scattered cypresses with exposed knees. Once could stand on the boardwalk and watch the clear water of the spring merge with the tannic water of the upper river. The owner has dedicated a conservation area, the Crystal Springs Preserve, around this spring.

Shirely Denton


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