This is a right step to improve the health of the river. It also needs help to restore its reduced flow and nitrate pollution.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Gainesville Sun Editorial Board
January 10, 2021
Ichetucknee Springs State Park represents some of the best of what North Central Florida offers in terms of natural beauty and recreation. The clear waters of the springs flow into the Ichetucknee River, providing a place for people to float on inflatable tubes past the flora and fauna that distinguish our region.
Yet, as with so much of Florida’s natural beauty, people have a tendency to love it to death. Too many tubers can damage the aquatic grasses that are critical for the health of the river’s ecosystem. Combine their impact with the overpumping of groundwater that feeds the springs and pollution from agricultural operations that fuels algae growth in their waters, and you have a recipe for destroying the characteristics that make Ichetucknee Springs special.
COVID-19 has caused so much death and heartache, so it seems strange to celebrate anything that has come from the pandemic. But one upside was the closing of the upper stretch of the Ichetucknee River to tubing during a normally busy period, allowing aquatic vegetation more time than usual to recover.
Florida Springs Institute scientists documented the regrowth of vegetation, providing new evidence to support closing that part of the river to tubing moving forward. The park is now considering making that change, while still allowing up to 100 canoes, kayaks and paddleboards to be used each day on the upper portion of the river.
Tubing would still be allowed on the lower portion of the river, at an even higher rate than before. The proposal would expand tubing to 3,000 people a day from the 2,250 currently allowed at the park’s south entrance on U.S. 27 near Fort White.
Most of the speakers who called into a public hearing last month backed the plan, including Jim Stevenson, chief naturalist and biologist for the
Florida Park Service when it acquired Ichetucknee Springs in 1970. Florida Springs Institute Executive Director Robert Knight noted that Stevenson has long pushed for such a change, as conditions worsened even with limits in place on tubers.
Knight said closing the northern portion of tubing is a good step, but more needs to be done. While aquatic vegetation has recovered in the absence of tubing, he said the vegetation is far less diverse than in the past due to the impact of nitrate pollution and groundwater pumping from agricultural operations.
“Stopping the tubing there is not going to save the Ichetucknee,” he said.
Knight said the institute is about to publish a blueprint for restoring the springs of the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers. The bottom line: High-intensity farming such as row crops needs to be significantly scaled back in the area…..
Tubing changes would allow visitors to appreciate the natural beauty of Ichetucknee Springs while better protecting it. But they will need to push elected officials and regulators to change what is happening in the surrounding area if they really want the springs and river to be restored.