The head of Hart Springs Run has three merging spring runs. In April 2002, the only significantly flowing spring in this system was at the head of the middle channel and was the one sampled for water quality. The middle spring pool measures 51 ft (15.6 m) north to south and 45 ft (13.7 m) east to west. The depth of the pool measured over the vent was 19.9 ft (6.1 m). The water was clear and greenish. In the center of the spring pool, a prominent boil is produced on the surface by spring discharge. The vent is a vertical limestone fissure with 15 ft (4.6 m) high walls. The spring pool has a nearly rectangular shape and is enclosed by a 4 ft (1.2 m) high metal retaining wall. The metal wall extends several hundred feet southward and forms the perimeter of the entire southernmost spring and its run. The bottom is sand in the swimming area where the three spring channels merge. The northern run was not flowing, but the southernmost spring had slight flow with no boil on its surface. Exotic aquatic vegetation is abundant in the spring pool. Algae are abundant in the pool and the run. Other aquatic plants occur on the edges of the pool. From the swimming area at the confluence of the spring runs, Hart Springs Run flows northwest approximately 850 ft (259.1 m) into the Suwannee River from the east. The springs are situated within the forested river floodplain. A 0.3 mile (0.5 km) long wooden boardwalk follows along the north side of the spring run and the east side of the river, and footbridges cross over both the northernmost and main spring runs. An underwater cave system occurs at Hart Springs.
Hart Springs is located within a county recreation area 6.5 miles (10.5 km) northwest of Fanning Springs. After crossing over the Suwannee River on US 98/27A heading east, turn north (left) on SR 26 and drive approximately 1.4 miles (2.2 km) to the town of Wilcox. In Wilcox, SR 26 makes a 90 degree bend to the east (right). At this bend continue north (straight) onto CR 232. Drive 4.1 miles (6.6 km) and turn west (left) on CR 344. Travel 1.6 miles (2.6 km), then turn north (right) into the recreation area.
The first visit was a bust (March 2010) due to the flooding of the Suwannee. Apparently this happens fairly regularly, so be sure to check ahead to make sure the Springs are open and clear.
The second visit was a pleasant surprise and did not disappoint. I sort of forgot that the park was maintained/owned by Gilchrist county (and thus had an entrance fee), but my $4 was well worth it a few minutes later. The facilities for changing were very nice, and the concession stand wasn't half bad either! With two vents, even the number of people didn't deter me from hopping in and going for the more-eastern vent. While a little scary being all alone in the pool surrounding the boil of this vent, the depth was extraordinary. I was able to dive a good 15 to 20 feet before reaching a horizontal cave gushing clear water. Visibility wasn't great due to all the vegetation, but I'm not sure why the spring showed so little use. I was pleased.
Rather than exit at the beach and walk to the other vent, I chose to swim the gap. Visibility in this area wasn't quite up to what I expected, but it was mostly due to the crowds and sand being kicked up. Swimming a few feet under the surface gave me a better if darker view, spotting many schools of fish darting around unsuspecting visitors. After a quick breath under the bridge I arrived at the pool for the second vent.
I see now why it was more populated and fresh: the walkway above the sharp banks opened a tiny bit to allow jumpers access directly over the boil. It was more difficult to swim in this area due to that fact, but the clarity and force of the water made up for it. Check out the photos below for July 2010; the clarity of some of the later shots is amazing.
A boardwalk takes visitors out to the Suwannee which flows by just a quarter-mile from the springs. Had the mosquitoes and heat not been as bad I may have snapped more shots, but it is nice to take a step away from the crowds and see a seemingly different ecosystem.
Overall, Hart Springs surprised me. I think it's only downside is its location: fairly far from I-75 for hoppers from the east. However, if you ever end up in the High Springs / Suwannee River area, stop by. Just make sure it's in the summer!
July 2010 [flickr-photoset:id=72157624428913631,size=s]
c/o Mitchell Gentry
4240 SW 86th Avenue
Bell, FL 32619