Protecting a Florida Treasure
Air Date: Week of July 1, 2011
The Sunshine State is filled with hundreds of fresh water springs. A family trip to Wakulla Springs reminds commentator Andrew Skerritt of the beauty of this natural resource and the need to conserve it for future generations.
GELLERMAN: Florida is the Sunshine State but it’s also blessed with more than six hundred fresh water springs. You can swim in some, including Wakulla Springs. Andrew Skerritt recalls his first dip.
SKERRITT: Every cell in my body seems to protest as I step gingerly into Wakulla Springs. The average water temperature is about 68 degrees, but on a steamy-hot Florida afternoon, it feels near freezing. But I’ve come twenty miles from home in Tallahassee - it’s too late to turn back. It’s time to be baptized into one of the deepest and largest freshwater springs in the world.
I’ve lived in Florida longer than anywhere else in this country, but it takes a visit from my sister-in-law to lure me into this glorious water. My ten-year-old daughter accompanies me in. She holds nothing back as she swims to the nearest wood platform. Before long she’s running and jumping feet first into the green lagoon. The water is clear as crystal on the surface but murky at the bottom. Since the nineties, invasive hydrilla plants have threatened to choke and muddy this piece of paradise.
A trip to Wakulla Springs makes for the kind of idyllic summer day that southern novelists have long teased us about - those languid days of swinging from ropes into clear, clean water. When the sun’s rays dance over the surface, when time slows and the only things that seem to matter are the collision of flesh against water and the laughter of black birds in the distance.
The springs sit in the heart of Wakulla Springs State Park, long considered to be the gem of the Florida state park system. But this natural resource is more barometer and less ornament. Every day, 260 million gallons of water emerge from subterranean caverns, enough to satisfy a city of two and a half million people. The health of the spring reflects the quality of our drinking water.
The full majesty of the park and spring hits home as I stand on the observation and diving platform overlooking the springhead. I pretend to enjoy the view as I ponder testing my mettle. At fifty, have I finally mustered the courage to leap from a twenty-foot diving platform? As if to lend words to my thoughts, a father and son standing nearby banter about jumping in. The boy is fearless, while the older man hesitates. He hasn’t tried a cannon ball from this platform in twenty years. He’s unsure if he remembers how. This used to be the father’s spring. Now summers belong to his son.
That brief exchange illustrates what the spring, this iconic body of Florida water, symbolizes. It’s a community resource passed down from one generation to the next. It’s part of our environmental legacy, a gift. And each dive, each cannon ball, each collision of body against water serves like a handshake sealing a contract honoring our commitment, to conserve, preserve, and protect it.
For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony, this is Andrew Skerritt.
GELLERMAN: Andrew Skerritt teaches journalism at Florida A&M University in Tallahasee. His book, “Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial, and the AIDS Epidemic in the South,” will be published this fall. Professor Skerritt also contributes to our sister program, Planet Harmony, which pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at myplanetharmony.com.
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