Blue Spring Beauties

Winter may not be the prime time to experience all Florida offers, unless you’re a manatee….

Today I found myself at Blue Spring State Park, which is known as the winter home to over 200 West Indian Manatees.  The park is huge, more than 2,500 acres and offers the manatee “snowbirds” a safe, seasonal residence that is a constant 72 degrees.  They can be seen all along the spring for about a third of a mile. The spring dumps water into the St. Johns River, and actually flows north.

Manatees are mammals have been endangered for years.  Their gentle nature has put them at risk from boats and people in general.

While strolling the parks boardwalk, I observed dozens of the gentle giants at close range.  They were just starting to come in to their warm haven in large numbers.  They lumbered through the waters, rising up every 3 minutes or so for a good breath of air, then back down like a slow moving tank.  Some would cruise back and forth, others, simply hit bottom and laid there. Mamas and baby swam side by side.  One was spotted upside down, scratching its back on the sand bottom.  As I stood at the top of a cement staircase going down to the water from the boardwalk,  a mature manatee suddenly rose up out of the waters in slow motion, and pulled himself up onto the steps, centering his big blue-gray body on the metal handrail in the center of the steps, and laid across the bottom of the steps, rubbing on the hand rail.  That manatee had to be over 800 pounds for sure.

When a guy’s gotta scratch, a guy’s gotta scratch, and he certainly drew a crowd of excited onlookers!  But it is critical to limit human activity to observation only, no matter how tempting it may be to help give him a good scratch.  And you know he wanted it….

There were people from all walks of life and from all over the world on the boardwalk, observing the Manatees.  It was easy to get lost in an entire day of watching these big historic beauties, but there are certainly other things to do in Blue Springs as well. 

Swimming, tubing, snorkeling and scuba is offered during the summer months.  During the winter, the waters are the official Manatee refuge, so access to the water is restricted, except for an occasional Riverboat, canoe or Kayak tour.   The park had a huge campsite area with electric, water, and an impressive amount of privacy from other campers.  Cabins are even available to rent.  There are places to have large gatherings and picnic, hike, bike, bird watch, and maybe even spot an Okeechobee gourd.  

The sun was slowly going down in Blue Spring State Park.  Time to go back to the campsite, and look at the 400 or so shots of Manatees I’d taken.   The gentle, giant mammals of the coast.  What a great day!

Oh, and OF COURSE I found a cute little Manatee Christmas ornament at the gift shop…..

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