On the River – Dec. 2013

Finding a perfect gift for someone, whether they are a person that “has everything” or you are a person that “has very little” can be a challenge. The St. Johns River can help you with your holiday gift-giving needs by offering you the opportunity to provide a unique and rewarding experience for your family, friends, or significant other. Here are a few ideas!

Stay Local: Fort George and the Talbot Islands
There is no better gift than a well thought out day-trip to some place special and secluded. The St. Johns River offers the recreational opportunities, ambiance, and beauty necessary for planning such a trip. There is no better place to experience the natural wonders of our region than at the parks on Fort George and the Talbot Islands. Little Talbot, Amelia Island, Huguenot Beach and Kingsley Plantation are all a short drive or Ferry ride away. Paddle with Kayak Amelia, First Coast Outfitters, or Black Creek Outfitters, hike to Black Rock Beach, or ride your bike to the St. Johns River Ferry and pick your destination. Either way, this day trip is sure to leave the gift recipient in awe of the beauty of this area. Choose your journey! www.floridastateparks.org/FORTGEORGEISLAND/DEFAULT.CFM

Make a Day Trip: Juniper Springs and Florida Museum of Natural History
It is no secret that the health of our Florida springs is on the decline. Flows are reduced, biodiversity is shrinking, and algae often coats the remaining grasses at the bottoms of the springs. Fortunately, some springs are more protected and have fared much better. For instance, Juniper Springs is a sparkling subtropical oasis in the heart of the Ocala National Forest. About two hours from Jacksonville and one hour from Gainesville, spending the day at Juniper hiking the trails, getting your feet wet and enjoying the solitude of Florida is a great holiday gift. Finish your day trip by visiting the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville for the “Springs Eternal: Florida’s Fragile Fountains of Youth” exhibit that runs through January 5, 2014. Free admission will keep your day trip cost low enough that you can afford to visit your favorite Gainesville restaurant while in the area. I recommend The Top or Satchel’s Pizza! www.flmnh.ufl.edu/exhibits/limited-time-only/springs-eternal-fountain-youth/

Overnight Adventure: Silver Springs–boats, paddling & hiking
Silver Springs is one of the most famous springs in the world. Before Disney came to Florida, families and tourists went to Silver Springs for glass bottom boat tours, monkey sightings, and an escape into the natural Florida landscape. The Silver Spring Nature Theme Park recently became Silver Springs State Park. A trip to Silver will create lasting family memories for a fraction of the price of an expensive Disney vacation. (And you’ll feel more invigorated and refreshed!) Millions of gallons of water bubble up from the aquifer each day, flowing from the springs into the Silver River and eventually the St. Johns River. Make sure to view the springs through the glass bottom boats and go fish finding! Paddle the Silver River, enjoying the abundance of wildlife in the area and the fish below you. Rhesus monkeys can be found playing in the branches along the banks. These monkeys have lived in the Ocklawaha River basin for nearly 80 years, left behind during the filming of several movies that used the Florida river as a stand-in for the the mighty Amazon River. There are so many things to see and do at Silver Springs for friends, families, and anyone looking for an inexpensive holiday gift package. www.floridastateparks.org/silversprings/default.cfm

About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.