In Silver Glen Springs
by Raymond H. King, Jr.
(Ocala , Florida, USA )
Dr. Raymond King with Large Crayfish
IN SILVER GLEN SPRINGS
(Most text deleted for space requirements)
Our first trip, in 1946 and most of the subsequent King family trips over the next 7-8 years was by cabin cruiser down the St. Johns River. You could also get there by back roads through the Ocala National Forrest. The present Highway 19 was then a two-rut dirt road.
The Glen was a remote, tropical, Florida paradise. You can still see some of that even today and just imagine how it used to be. When we approached the Glen by boat from Lake George, we would lay down on the bow and watch the water. It would be the brown lake water, but when we got just outside the mouth of the run ( the large stream flowing from the spring ) it would change from opaque to clear. It was almost like when Dorothy opened to door in the Wizard of Oz movie. We did not see any Munchkins, but we saw all that wonderfully waving green eelgrass and schools of silver mullet and shiners in that clear water. We had just entered Tarzan country.
The Glen was owned by the Henderson family at that time and some of them lived there. The Hendersons sold it a few years later. The new owners were definitely not as much fun. Somewhere about in the 70's, along with the improved highway access it became much more frequented and then commercialized and the deterioriation started.
There were several factors involved in the degregation. A primary one is the more recent yuppy boaters who found that the run was a good party spot and on weekends even now there are a hundred boats anchored in it. The prop wash has undermined the grass so the the bottom is sand covered with blotches of brown algae. Water quality has not declined much, but enough so that invasive plants, mostly algae, have changed the nature of the once grass-covered bottom . The native black bass and bream are now replaced by fish I never saw before in the Glen, but the Mullet are still there. The introduction of Striped Bass into the St. Johns for sports fishermen and the accidental spill-over of the ("exotic") Talapia have had a deep impact on the underwater. The Stripes are now the major fish predator. Talapia nests are the size and shape of very large salad serving bowls like at Olive Garden and they decimate the bottom. However, the topside still looks pretty good compared to the somewhat depressing bottom. Now the Glen has been partially rescued and is being operated by the National Park Service, but the boorish beer boobs in boats are still flocking into the run on week ends as also noted by Florida naturalist Bill Belleville (Ref.).
That first year we stayed in one of the several cabins. Of course, there was no air conditioning in the cabins. This was 1946. But there was electricity and there were flush toilets, provided that someone (you know who) hauled buckets of water up from the "Drinking Spring". It is also called the "Well Spring". Swimming there was off limits, but there were a few rare exceptions.There was a short dock at the Well Spring for getting the water buckets filled. This spring well was a vertical cylindrical shaft about twelve feet in diameter and about 20 feet straight down to a flat and then splitting with one nearly horizontal leg and the other veering downward at about 45 deg for the additional 19 feet.
There was a swimming pier ("dock") on the East side of the main swimmimg spring with a diving board above the main "boil". There was a small turtle-shaped island adjacent to the South side of big spring. It is gone now. East of the spring there was a small store and office with a bath house for the day visitors. There were old photographs and some Native Indian artifacts on display in the store. They have been retained by the Park Service. ( I do not know where.) There was a large shell mound behind the store. ( It is gone now.) Along the North shore of the spring were moored the dozzen, green-painted fishing boats that were for rent. Fishermen provided thair own motors. There was a small boat house and a fish cleaning dock downstream on the East side and a larger boat mooring dock across the run on the West side, down from the Well Spring. There were picnic tables and a shelter there.
Another photo shows the little
"turtle" island. Those trees the Well spring at were cut down several years later when it was made a swimming area for a while. This is shown in an old photograph which was with those other Glen memoribilia and artifacts. All those items are gone now - probably archived in a drawer somewhere. I am actively looking for them.
Farther south of the boat dock the run makes a turn eastward toward the lake. In this hard bend is where the water enters from the "Sandboil Creek" to the South. This creek is about sixty yards long and mostly wide and shallow with reeds and other aquatic plants until it narrows as it enters the wooded area where the several large "boils" are. Such sand "boils" are sometimes called "laughing" or "dancing" springs. These were immortalized as "Jody's Spring" by Rawlings in her famous novel, "The Yearling". There is now an elevated walkway from the old picnic area to the "boils". On the other side (the inside) of the bend and filling most of the more shallow part of the run was an extensive growth of reeds. Many of them were covered with pink snail eggs near the water.This was an unofficial fish nursery and sanctuary that we never went into, even as swimmers. The yuppy boaters took care of that in a hurry. On the south side of the run, opposite the reeds is an open area on a hill where we found some native indian artifacts. They were mostly pottery shards which had been stirred and broken by the farming activities of the White Devils.
That first year the Henderson family took us for a nighttime hike to spot deer. We saw plenty. We also came upon part of the movie set for "The Yearling" where the house had been. The "flutterwheel scene" had been filmed at Sandboil Creek (Jody's Spring) and the bear chase scene was filmed somewhere on Juniper Prarie. On that night hike I was told about palmetto cabbage which I tried.
Blue crabs would come into the run out of the lake, especially after it rained. We would go crabbing at night in the run with a kerosene lamp tied to the bow of the row boat. They were easier to see that way than during the day. One person would row and the other would use a spring-loaded grab-type "gig" that was mounted on a long pole. No bait would be used. A dozen or so crabs would be grabbed in an evening.
We saw a few very large crayfish ( langoustre ?) in the spring and one afternoon a fellow from Gainesville was there who was interested in them. He gave the boys permission to go into the Well Spring to search for them. I remember one being seen in the run near the big spring. There is a photo of Dr. Raymond King holding one.
Several years ago some Florida cave divers from Gainesville and Ocala got special permission to explore the Silver Glen Springs. The water velocity and narrowness of the main spring vent made entrance there impossible so they entered the underwater system by way of the Well Spring. They mapped the surprisingly extensive and convoluted caves and found a magnificient room which was photographed using multiple exposures. This picture was mounted in the Park Service Station at the entrance to the Glen when I saw it a few years ago. The owner of an Ocala dive shop, Bill Foote has had it on that wall too. I go there and gawked at it. Bill was the brave underwater photographer who took it. They mapped the cavern system and I understood that they also found some native indian artifacts in the underground system and I believe those were given to a local museum or else to the Univ. of Fla.. He did not seem interested in making more copies of that photograph. I spoke to one of the other divers from Gainesville and then I provided mutual introduction between him and Dr. Emmet Ferguson, (2008) of Jacksonville, an author of one of the few Florida springs books. (Ref.) To my knowledge there had been no subsequent colaboration between them to publish. However, there is a description by Florida naturalist Bill Belleville of diving this cave with Eric Hutcheson, one ot the original three. It is in Bill's book about the St. Johns River titled "River of Lakes" . I have been told of some discussion of that cave on an internet divers forum which discussion I have been unable to find.