Ginnie Springs, photographed in Gilchrist county, Florida (12-13 April 2014).
This past weekend, the weekend of April 12th and 13th, 2014, I bolted northwest to Ginnie Springs Park in Gilchrist county, Florida for a weekend group campout. An old friend of mine (my first true friend from childhood, actually) co-sponsors an annual Tiki Luau – often at Ginnie Springs. This year, I jumped into the fray, and I’m glad I did.
Ginnie Springs is actually a privately owned park. Because of this, the Ginnie grounds are notably different than county, state, and federal parks. It’s much looser, so to speak. There were more than a few groups of college kids, for example, partying quite hard throughout the campgrounds. Lots of music rustling through the trees, lots of Dionysian celebrations beneath the Spanish moss. As for myself, well… I remained sober throughout the weekend. I had other plans in mind — plans involving frogs and my Nikon.
Truly, though there was still far more noise, hustle, and bustle than I tend to prefer in park settings, Ginnie proved itself to be a damn good time in seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and finding some excellent habitats and organisms. It may not be the best place to go if you want some peace and quiet and to get away from it all, but it is still a fun place to go to swim, hike, and see some of what North Florida has to offer. This post and the series that follows will chronicle the weekend’s bountiful ecological offerings.
Ginnie Springs is situated on the southern shore of the Santa Fe River in Gilchrist county (west of High Springs and northwest of Gainesville). The park actually consists of a number of springs, Ginnie Spring being only one of seven. The most notable springs include (from west to east, heading upstream) Deer Spring, Twin Spring, Dogwood Spring, Ginnie Spring, and finally the Devil Spring System. The area is famous for the cavernous labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ground. Hordes of scuba divers come here to explore the intricate and vast aquatic cave system delivering 72-degree water to the surface. On land, there are about 200 acres of ground to explore — covering a variety of habitats.
Of note, the Santa Fe River is currently running quite high. As a result, entire swaths of the Ginnie Springs grounds are inundated with standing water — dark, golden brown water rich with tannic acid. Though this may screw up some campgrounds (see below), and it may also promote a high number of mosquitos (they were everywhere!), the high water was good news to me. High water and inundated lands are good for frog action — particularly in April when the treefrogs move into mating mode and descend from the treetops above. But we’ll get to the frogs later…
The last time I’d visited Ginnie Springs was June of 1998 — a very long time ago. In what now seems to have been a previous life, I camped at Ginnie with a previous partner during our move from Norman, Oklahoma to Gainesville, Florida. This was three years before graduate school, back before I met my wife. It truly was another life, though my adoration of being outside was well intact at the time.
During our move from Oklahoma to Florida, we camped all along the way. Ginnie Springs was our final stop before reaching Gainesville and Alachua county. If I remember correctly, we picked Ginnie because it was a private park that allowed pets at the time. We had two cats and a parakeet with us. Now, how did we figure that out while en route? I have no idea. There were no smart phones or mobile internet connections back then… and we didn’t really plan the trip, if I recall. We just sort of packed up and drifted southeast toward Gainesville, finding places to camp. One way or another, we somehow ended up at Ginnie Springs for a day and a night.
That truly was a long time ago. I had, in fact, largely forgotten that I’d camped at Ginnie previously until after I arrived this past weekend and saw the Santa Fe from the park’s edge. Standing on the shore of a vacant campsite, looking out over the Santa Fe River, I suddenly remembered the old 1998 campsite:
Yup. I’d been there before. Funny how time and memory work, right? Still, it didn’t take long to snap me back to the present. This wasn’t going to be a flashback trip, and it wasn’t going to be a drunken Bacchanal trip. This trip was about being outside and celebrating the thickening of spring and the approaching march of summer.
In retrospect, though it may have messed up campgrounds for some folks and draped us all in dense blankets of mosquitos, the flooding of the Santa Fe was fantastic. I ultimately spent hours upon hours wading through the flood zones, during the day and at night, peering at trees, palms, and small bushes poking up through the flood waters.
As we’ll see in the posts to follow, Ginnie Springs was absolutely springing with life. Truly, we have much to cover this next week or two, and it’s going to be a fun, fun series to compose. We have a number of species new to Dust Tracks, as well as some fantastically lush (and swamped) landscapes to check out. Expect posts to come on a daily basis over the next week. There’s much to see!
Next on Dust Tracks: Cope’s gray treefrog!