Ichetucknee springs and river were declared a National Natural Landmark in 1972. Ichetucknee is an Indian word meaning “beaver pond” and is one of Florida’s 33 first-magnitude springs. Ichetucknee Springs State Park in northern central Florida attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year and contributes $22 million to the local economy. It was purchased by the State of Florida in 1970 from the Loncala Corporation to preserve one of the state’s outstanding natural wonders.
From the end of May to September, tubing down the river is a premier activity in the area. A limited number of tubers are allowed on the river each day to maintain a balance between recreation and preservation. Water temperature is generally 72 degrees. Tubers can rent rubes and carry them along a shady path at the north end to the put-in or dock area — choosing whether to wear water shoes or not. The Florida Outdoor Writers Association on Aug. 21 utilized the vendor Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins and had great service (www.ichetuckneecanoeandcabins.net).
A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses are useful, and tubers may carry drinking water so long as it is not in a disposable container. Planning on a two-hour float is recommended. Canoeing, kayaking and snorkeling are other ways to experience the river.
Along the way, floaters may spy numerous birds, from limpkins to herons, mullet, turtles and flora such as cypress trees, longleaf lines, bright red Cardinal Flowers and air plants. Obviously, the quieter you are, the more wildlife you will see.
Located in Fort White, the Ichetucknee has quite a history. According to the park’s website, “Immediately after the Civil War, northern Florida received a great influx of settlers. The area around Fort White was still considered wild frontier when the small community was incorporated in 1870. Soon after, the nearby town of Ichetucknee sprang up along the banks of Mill Pond Spring. By 1884, Ichetucknee had its own post office, grist mill and smithy. The Ichetucknee River was the lifeblood of the communities and settlers such as the Dampier family came frequently to the river banks to swim, bathe, hunt, fish and worship. Before devastating hurricanes, severe winters and a boll weevil infestation ravaged Fort White in the early 1900s, industries included phosphate-mining, citrus, cotton, and railroad commerce. During its heyday, Fort White boasted more than 2,000 residents.”
The second to last exit from the river is marked Dampiers Landing and features a snack bar and restrooms; the final river exit is at the south end and may take three hours to float from start to finish. The park is open 365 days at 8 a.m. until sundown.
The six-mile Ichetucknee River contributes close to 233 million gallons of spring water to the Santa Fe River, another heavily-used recreation area. (My story on kayaking the Santa Fe is to come). For more information, visit https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Ichetucknee-Springs or call 386 497-4690. For information on more things to do and see in the area, visit www.suwaneevalley.org.