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Juniper Springs and Fern Hammock

Turtle Doppleganger, Fern Hammock, Juniper Springs

Turtle Doppleganger, Fern Hammock, Juniper Springs

Located in Ocala National Forest, Juniper Springs, built by the Army Conservation Corps in 1932 is one of the oldest in the State of Florida.  Near the main spring is Fern Hammock Springs, a pristine natural area situated in a subtropical forest.  My friend, springs painter Margaret Tolbert, and I hiked over to this area and marveled at the turtles, small springs, and bubbling mud vents.  It is not possible to swim here, which may have been why we saw so much wildlife. The turtle above swam right near a small bridge we were standing on for awhile. Several more hopped on and off a log, while others seemed to enjoying swimming right over the small springs. I loved the interrelation between the turtle and its shadow.  Somehow it made me think of its ancient lineage and the long history of these springs providing water for creatures inhabiting the waterways within the forest.

Turtle over a Spring,  Fern Hammock

Turtle over a Spring,  Fern Hammock

The water here was dotted with leaves and other organic material, indicating a healthy biofilm.  Perhaps this was due to being located in a National Forest and the fact that people are not allowed to swim here. The lack of people in the water is probably why the wildlife was so unafraid.

Branch with a Bubbling Mud Vent, Fern Hammock

Branch with a Bubbling Mud Vent, Fern Hammock

To the right and alongside the bridge were bubbling mud vents.  This seething, roiling underwater-scape made me realize how much water animates the landscape.

Small Alligator, Juniper Springs

Small Alligator, Juniper Springs

There was also a small alligator in the water just beyond the bubbling sand.  I wasn't sure if it was young or stunted, I hoped the former.

Filamentous Algae Smothering Sea Grass in Juniper Spring

Filamentous Algae Smothering Sea Grass in Juniper Spring

In Juniper Springs proper, I was sad to see filamentous algae cloaking and in some places over taken the native sea grasses.  The algae was an electric green color that held visual interest and drew me near, but all the while I was swimming I wondered if it was going to impair my health to swim so close to it.  I am working on an algae project with a microbiologist and he has stopped having his scientists and volunteers go in the water to obtain samples when blooms are present.

Margaret Diving into the Vent, Juniper Springs

As we got closer to the headsprings, there seemed to be less algae and the areas of the bottom not covered in native grasses was white sand.  The image above shows Margaret diving down to the she source of the springs.  Though it was better here, I was still upset to see so much algae in a place with no development or agriculture in the immediate watershed.