Swimming the “world’s shortest river” at Falmouth Spring

There are so many things to do on, along and near the Suwannee River, I could type until my fingers fall off.

There’s hiking trails,  fishing spots, and miles and miles or scenic kayaking.  But the most uniquely Florida experiences along the river are at the many springs which feed into the Suwannee on its journey from south Georgia to the Florida Gulf Coast.

There’s the wonderful Fanning and Hart springs, and the slightly less lovely Otter Springs.  And further north, there’s Falmouth Spring.

The boardwalk down to Falmouth Spring.

The boardwalk down to Falmouth Spring.

Falmouth is a first magnitude spring, pumping out over 65 million gallons of water a day.  Unlike Fanning, Hart and Otter springs, Falmouth doesn’t visibly connect with the Suwannee; instead, the spring run heads under ground before eventually meeting up with the mighty river.

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Swim the crystal waters of Fanning Springs State Park

Like Otter and Hart Springs just to the north, Fanning Springs is a second-magnitude spring that empties into the Suwannee River.  Unlike those two, though, the park is part of the state park system and isn’t managed by the county or a private company.  Personally,  I think that state parks do a better job of managing these natural resources than other entities – and I imagine it’s not easy to balance human recreation with natural preservation.

But Fanning Springs is really a lovely place to spend the afternoon.  It’s a small park, but the spring is beautiful.  The water is crystal clear and the spring itself is pretty deep (maybe 30 or 40 feet to the lowest point you can see from the surface).  The park service has built a boardwalk that surrounds the spring on three sides, allowing people to sunbathe near the water and preventing boats form the river from getting all the way into the spring.

The spring vent is located under the far trees.

The park service has also constructed a short boardwalk system (less than 1/4 mile) that takes visitors out to the river.  Looking out at the river, you’d have no idea that below the surface, about 100 yards from the Old Town bridge, the sunken remains of a 100-year-old steamship have sat relatively undisturbed since the early 1920s.  There’s lots of false information about the wreck – many claim it was a Union gunboat – but the truth isn’t any less interesting.  The boat, The City of Hawkinsville (that’s its name), was a turn-of-the-century steamboat that hauled lumber and naval supplies up to the Gulf Coast and into north Florida.

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Otter Springs in Trenton, Fla., has lots of promise, little payoff

Coming off of my guarded endorsement of Hart Springs, we’re headed 10 minutes south to Otter Springs, which, like Hart, feeds the Suwannee River.  Otter Springs sign

Otter Springs is a second-magnitude spring, meaning it pumps out an awful lot of water (somewhere between 7 and 70 million gallons every day).  The park is privately run, and it has a modest entrance fee – only $4 a person.  The entrance fee gets you access to the springs, the boat ramp and a few miles of hiking trails.

The park also has a large RV campground near the springs.  Not close enough to be disruptive, but close enough to offer campers easy access.  I’ve been RV camping many, many times, and I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen sites as tightly packed as these ones.  I like to keep a little space from my neighbors, but that’s out of the question here.  On the plus side, there is an indoor swimming pool.  Frankly, I was a little surprised to see an indoor swimming pool a few hundred yards from a natural spring.  But then I saw the spring, and it all made sense.

I hate to be disparaging about this place.  The woman in the office was extremely helpful, answering all of my questions with a smile, and she gave me plenty of maps to help me get around.  But the springs are in rough shape.

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