Last year Terry and I attempted to ride our bikes the entire length of the Withlacoochee State Trail. Oh yeah, it wasn’t that big of a deal, we did several rides–manageable sections of about 10-mile round trips. We made it through most of it, learned a little about the town at each trail head, and finished by participating in the annual Rails-to-Trails ride.
This year I’d like to get to know more about the waterways in our county. Yeah, I’ve wrote about Homosassa Springs and the River numerous times. Can’t help it. I love it here! This year I’m sure I’ll revisit those two and write about them a whole bunch more. But we’re venturing out to the surrounding communities and checking out other springs, rivers, and lakes.
My first stab at that was last week when I wrote about Bluebird Springs. Mostly just pics on my blog, but I did do some research and posted about Bluebird Springs on the Chronicle blog if you would like to know a little more.
On Sunday, Terry and I attended the Crystal River Manatee Festival–mainly so we could go to Three Sisters Springs which is only open to the public for special events. There is no parking at the springs so you either have to walk from King’s Bay Plaza on Hwy 19 or catch a shuttle at the festival. We chose to pay the entry fee for the festival and ride the bus. That turned out to be a wise move since the road is long and not made for walking!
We wanted to be there early, hoping to arrive before the crowds. Another smart choice! By the time we left, that place was crazy busy. Since access is limited, both the locals and tourists take advantage of an opportunity to see this special place.
It has been very cold here the last few days so we expected to see plenty of manatees. (Manatees can not handle cold weather and flock to the Florida springs which are always 72 degrees.)
I was quite surprised to see all the kayaks and snorkelers in the springs since they are often closed off when it gets cold to give the manatees room to stay warm.
There is a section between the springs that is about 8 or 9 feet wide that manatees, kayakers and swimmers share. While we watched, the manatees swam underneath the snorkelers to get to the next spring.
Part of the spring is a manatee sanctuary–cordoned off for the manatees so they can rest and stay warm undisturbed.
Outside of the shelter and lined along the canal were numerous tour groups.
The raised boardwalk provided many places to see the water and appreciate the native Florida plants.
Three Sisters Springs is a beautiful place. The City of Crystal River, along with several Government agencies purchased the property in July 2010, saving it from private development. The city depends on “eco-tourism” and wants the park open to the public as soon as possible. But there are obstacles. One I read about was that people that live there do not want tourists looking into their back yards. After finally going to the spring and seeing all the tour boats, snorkerlers, and kayakers, I have a hard time understanding how limiting access to the boardwalk would eliminate that issue. The river is never closed and the tour operators make their living bringing tourists in to swim with the manatees. Even the kayakers can put in at King’s Bay and it’s a quick paddle to the spring.
The road into the park goes through a residential neighborhood. A new road will need to be built. In addition, there are plans for a visitor and education center. One guide we spoke with said that it will cost $11 million to get the park open full-time.
A representative from the Southwest Water Management District said that they are currently working on turning part of the park into a watershed. Water draining from local businesses and parking lots will no longer go directly into Crystal River but go through the watershed and first be cleaned.
Until the park is open full-time, we’ll be visiting during these special events. In addition, we’re planning a kayaking venture to check it out from the water–on a warm day and during the week!