A March 2007 trip
to Florida by MARecycle
Quote: As in my other journals, this trip sought out the best snorkeling spots in the central panhandle area of north Florida. Also included are our quest for fine dining spots in this area.
In March 2007, we took a trip to the Central Panhandle of Florida is search of the best snorkeling in the areas famous Florida Springs. Our base of operation was the small city of Marianna, FL, about halfway between Tallahassee and Pensacola. There are many good resources and books about the springs of Florida, including a number of websites. One of the best that we’ve found is http://tfn.net/Springs/. The Florida Springs have always been a wonder to me. Their stark beauty, shimmering waters, and natural settings always move us. The waters of the springs are crystal clear with visibility often exceeding 100 feet. The temperature is modest at 69-72 degrees Fahrenheit and you’ll need to wear a wet suit to snorkel. Many of the springs in the area are tapped for bottled water because of their purity. All of Northern Florida has limestone geology with major aquifers that gush out millions of gallons a day of pristine water through the springs. The challenge in finding good spring snorkeling sports are ones that accessible (a lot of the springs are on private property) and are large and interesting enough for snorkeling.
The springs are well known for their cave diving. I have done that at many of them, but with my current approach to finding some of the finest snorkeling spots, the rules of the games change. Because of the location of many of the springs, only some of the good snorkeling ones of them are accessible by car and most only by boat. On this trip, as in others, we packed our canoe aboard which makes for excellent touring in addition to being able to get to the spring spots – many of which have fairly shallow water access. In addition to the springs we visited, there are numerous excellent canoeing opportunities on various bodies of water including the Chipola River, Spring Creek, and others. While there is very little in Marianna that approaches a gourmet restaurant, as always, we try to seek out the best places to eat and we’ll give you a little bit of review on them. Like many small towns in the South, the people in Marianna are no exception – friendly, go out of their way to help you, and just in general, make it pleasant to visit their area.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on March 22, 2007
Restaurant | "Ice House Grill"
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 22, 2007
Old Ice House Grill & Eatery
4829 Highway 90
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 22, 2007
2914 Optimist Drive
Restaurant | "Madison Warehouse"
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 22, 2007
2881 Madison Street
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 22, 2007
Tu-Do Vietnamese Restaurant
7130 North Davis Highway
Pensacola, Florida 32504
Attraction | "The Springs of Merrit’s Mill Pond"
Just outside Marianna (Jackson County, FL), Merrit’s Mill Pond is a clear water pond about five miles long that’s been formed by damming a major spring run many years ago. There are at least four interesting springs that feed this pond. Blue Springs, at the very northern end, is the largest and most spectacular. Blue Springs is operated as a county park but is only open from May through September. One can snorkel Blue Springs by putting in a canoe further down the pond and going up to it. We did not do that on this trip. The spring that we visited on this occasion was Shangri-La. The canoe access used to get to Shangri-La was a dirt boat ramp at the end of Day Road, which is off Blue Springs Road (County Hwy 164), which comes off Hwy 71 North, outside of Marianna.
Shangri-La Springs is about 3/8 mile canoe northeast of the put in area. Blue Springs is another ¼ mile north of Shangri-La. You could also put in at Blue Springs in the summer time and canoe downstream to Shangri-La. The pond is wide and has very little current. On the west shore of the pond, Shangri-La Springs sits in an area with a lone cypress tree near the shore. Look for a lot of metal posts sticking out of the water, the remains of a dock. A fern covered rock about the size of a small car sits 10 feet offshore. Onshore is a limestone bluff with a small overhang near the shore. The spring itself is quite pretty, deep blue in color, and always has exceptionally clear water. We were disappointed by the amount of bottles, cans, etc. that you find in many springs, but no one maintains this area.
The main stream is a beautiful little cave, only five feet deep with a steady and gentle flow from the vent. The surrounding area is also good snorkeling as the whole pond itself has very good visibility. We also saw for the first time several large crawfish in this spring, and saw a dead fish that was almost the size of a human. We met a local resident who trapped crawfish in cages in the pond. Just down the pond from Day Road, at Russ Road, is a local dive shop that can help with directions, equipment, etc. Shangri-La is one of the pretty little springs, and its water is perfectly clear. One can snorkel on the entire edge of the pond or in the sandy spots in the middle and see many other kinds of wildlife.
Merrit’s Mill Pond
Merritt's Mill Pond
Attraction | "Snorkeling in Cypress Springs"
10401 Cypress Springs Parkway
Orlando, Florida 32825
Econfina Creek is located off State Road 20 in Bay County. It’s a well-known canoeing creek with more than a dozen springs located along it, both in Bay County and Washington County to the north. This small creek has a moderately stuff current of 2-3 miles an hour. We have visited this creek several times, and have canoed northward from the boat ramp to Williford Springs that is about ½ mile north of the bridge. This time, we went south to the Gainer Springs group. You can put in at the state boat ramp north of Hwy 20. However, for easier access, put in you canoe on the southwest side of Hwy 20 where you can drive right up to the bank.
The Gainer Spring group consists of a series of springs about ½ mile below Hwy 20 on Econfina Creek. They are located on both sides of the river. The most noticeable landmark is the deep blue Emerald Springs (also known as Gainer #2) that stands out on the western bank of the creek. This spring has an intense flow, a deep blue color, and is always clear no matter what stage the creek is at. When we were there in March 2007, the creek itself was fairly low and tannic in color, but had some visibility. At high water, the creek is muddy. At lower water (in the summertime), the creek itself becomes almost totally clear. You can snorkel Emerald Springs and work your way up the shoreline into a run area with a small island that has another headspring. It makes an excellent snorkeling tour. We also went across the river from Emerald Springs up a run to the location of McCormick Spring. While these runs go back almost 3/8 mile, and there are small springs feeding them, there is really no snorkeling opportunities on this side of the river. Emerald Springs is used as a local swimming hole, but again, is only accessible by boat as it is surrounded by private land.