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Magical moments on our hike to find hidden springs

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Our discovery of hidden springs revealed some magical moments. Thanks to everyone who attended!
Here's a report from leader Jay Exum:
FOWR Ecology Field Course #6:
Hidden Springs of Seminole State Forest

On June 3, about 30 participants in the Friends of the Wekiva River’s sixth and final ecology field course trekked across Seminole State Forest in search of “hidden springs”. These diminutive, Magnitude 4 or 5 springs still emanate from relatively unaltered natural lands and provide much of the surface flow for Sulfur Run, a tributary to Blackwater Creek.

All these springs occur in the Wekiva basin springshed and are protected within the 25,000-acre Seminole State Forest in the Wekiva to Ocala corridor. On the Forest, management is focused on restoring the historical biological diversity of scrub and sandhill habitats. Preservation of these habitats, characterized by extremely high recharge into the Floridan aquifer, has also protected the springshed for the springs that we visited during our day in the field.

The springs occur in an area referred to as Sulfur Island, a 60-foot uprising of well-drained soils underlain by limestone. At the spring vents, groundwater is forced out of these karst formations by underground pressure. The springs bubble up at the surface and form a continuous flow of clear, low nutrient water. We visited Helene, Markee, Boulder, Shark Tooth and Palm Springs. Palm Springs was dammed by previous private landowners to provide a deeper swimming hole. After acquisition, the state removed the dam to return the spring to its natural topography and hydrology. We admired the success of these restoration efforts, and the recovery of native vegetation along the slopes of the spring. Helene Springs sits in a veritable oasis of hydric hammock under a mature canopy of bald cypress, tupelo gum, water oak, sweetbay magnolia and tuliptrees that provided a cool (albeit humid) break from the adjacent longleaf pine flatwoods. Boulder, Markee and Shark Tooth Springs emerge from sandhill and scrub communities and their relatively steep slopes provided an interesting transition from sand pine scrub across longleaf pine sandhills into the wetland community created by the springs.

This field trip allowed us the opportunity to review the information learned during previous field courses. We discussed the diversity of frogs in wetlands systems across Seminole forest, the need for fire to maintain most of the upland communities in the Wekiva basin and the unique attributes of the ecological communities that we visited during the last year. Hopefully, the FOWR field course provided a primer for some, and deeper insight for others into the benefits and beauty of natural systems in the Wekiva basin.

June 3 — In Search of Secret Springs

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June 3- In Search of Secret Springs

 
Join us Sunday, June 3, on a journey to discover the hidden springs of Seminole State Forest. We will explore several small springs that occupy distinctive habitats in the flatwoods and sandhills near Blackwater Creek. We will evaluate the unique attributes of these springs and discuss how their fragility is indicative of the importance of protecting the springshed for all the ground- and surface-waters in the Wekiva basin.

We will meet at the Bear Pond Trailhead at the southern entrance of Seminole State Forest at 9:00 AM. The entrance to the park is less than 1/2 mile west of the Wekiva River and north of State Road 46. We plan to spend three hours exploring these hidden springs and will end the morning with a picnic lunch. If you can stay for the picnic, please bring your own food and drink. If you need to leave at noon, you will be able to go back to your car at the parking lot at Bear Pond.

It is extremely wet at Seminole State Forest and we will be hiking through shallow water at several times during the day. Please be sure to bring shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. Mosquitoes will be relatively abundant at times so dress accordingly. Fee: $25 payable at www.FriendsofWekiva.org. Use the Donate with PayPal button and write Seminole Springs in the notes section. For more information, email FriendsWekivaRiver@gmail.com or call 407-788-2619.

Ecology on the Wekiva

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Aquatic Ecology on Rock Springs Run

 

Our fifth installment of the Friends of the Wekiva River ecology field course series related to aquatic ecology. We paddled portions of Rock Springs Run on Saturday, April 19. Recent rainfall required us to reschedule, and then modify the trip, but this portion of the Wild and Scenic River system did not disappoint. We discussed Rock Springs, a second order magnitude spring, and the contribution its 40 million gallons per day provides to the surface waters of Rock Springs Run. We discussed changes in water quality at the spring and the surface waters along the Run over the last few decades and measures that can be taken to improve them. We took special note of the plants that were flowering during this spring trip. We saw bulltongue, hemlock, pickerelweed, buttonbush, spider lily, sweetbay, spatterdock and other showy flowers during our 4-mile canoe trip. We also noted flower of less conspicuous species such as cattail, rushes, beakrushes, sedges and sawgrass. We discussed the forested floodplain associated with the Wekiva River system and its importance to migratory birds. I mentioned the various warbler species that were observed migrating through central Florida over the last month, and we noted migratory species that had now arrived and will breed here. Birds that we observed or heard included pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, red-eyed vireo, white ibis, little blue heron, great egret, tri-colored heron, and a female wood duck with chicks. The rain held off for just long enough for us to finish our paddle, first through the Emerald Cuttowards Rock Springs, and then downstream a couple

 

of miles along Rock Springs Run. We felt the difference between paddling upstream against the powerful flows of a second order of magnitude spring, and the benefit of allowing it to push us downstream. This section of the Wekiva Wild and Scenic River is one of the most scenic with clear water; native, mature forested canopy; and spectacular native wildflowers. Thanks to all that participated - we hope you will continue to enjoy the river and work to sustain its values.

May 29 — What happens after the flush

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May 29 -- What happens after the flush? Septics 101 for springs

What happens to your waste after you flush can impact the quality of our ground and surface water. Join presenters from the University of Florida as they explain the basics of septic system function and maintenance. Learn about new advanced septic system technologies designed for enhanced removal of pollutants. Event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Deltona Regional Library Auditorium, 2150 Eustace Avenue, Deltona. For more info, visit www.greenvolusia.org or call 386-736-5927

April 15 — Guided canoe/kayak trip

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FULL -- May 19 - Guided canoe trip

Join us for a guided canoe/kayak ride that will be the most informative you will ever take! Our expert ecologist will lead a float down Rock Springs Run on April 15. This is an unbeatable voyage into a wild, scenic and biologically distinct river run that offers idyllic vistas and a serene experience through protected natural lands.

We will leave from Kings Landing at 8 a.m. but please be there at 7:30. We'll float the 8.5 mile stretch to Wekiva Island. We have concluded that it will be easiest for most of us to use the shuttle service provided by Kings Landing. The costs for the guided trip is $25 plus the following fees. Fees are paid only in cash at Kings Landing:

  1. If you have your own canoe or kayak and don’t need a shuttle: $10 launching fee,
  2. with your own canoe or kayak and you use the shuttle service: $20,
  3. rent a kayak, with shuttle: $30,
  4. rent a canoe, with shuttle: $40, and
  5. rent a double kayak, with shuttle: $50.

You cannot bring glass or Styrofoam on the river. Bring your own water, snacks, sunscreen, etc.

This stretch of the river boasts unique features, including subtle changes in the canopy vegetation as you move across mixed floodplain swamp, bald cypress swamp, live oak hammock and loblolly pine forest communities adjacent to the river. The Run itself varies from a narrow passage between forested communities with little vegetation in the channel to broader sections with islands of floating vegetation. The changes in habitat on the banks of the river and the correlated shift in aquatic habitat influence dominant plants and  the wildlife that lives there.

For questions and to reserve your spot, email FriendsWekivaRiver@gmail.com or call 407-788-2619.

Secrets of the Woods Walk

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Feb. 18 -- Secrets of the Woods Walk

Do you know what animals live in scrub? Can you distinguish a sandhill from flatwoods? Well come on out & get your Florida on! Join us Feb. 18th, 9 a.m. to noon at Rock Springs Run State Reserve for a walk with our ecology expert who will dazzle you with up-close experiences in Florida habitats. You'll view scrub, sandhill, flatwoods and wetlands habitats and learn about each of these communities' plants, animals, soils, waters and fire needs. Cost is $25 and space is filling first come, first served. You'll walk a mile or two so wear shoes that are comfortable for hiking; bring water, a hat and sunscreen, and wear appropriate clothes for traversing through some potentially dense habitat. Exciting eh? We'll mee...t at the entrance to the Reserve. (For those of you who haven’t been there, this is not where Rock Springs is.) The entrance is south of SR 46, a little less than 2.5 miles west of the Wekiva River and 0.2 mile east of the traffic light at SR 46A. Google maps says: 30601 County Road 433, Sorrento, FL 32776. For questions and to reserve your spot, email FriendsWekivaRiver@gmail.com or call 407-788-2619. You can also visit our website www.FriendsofWekiva.org and pay through our PayPal button, noting that it's for the ecology walk. Hope to see you there!

 

In Search of Bats Walk

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Friday, Feb. 9 -- In Search of Bats Walk

In search of bats -- come with us on Friday, Feb. 9 on an evening walk to spot bats! This is a great follow-up for those who attended our recent bat talk or to catch up on what you might have missed. FREE for everyone. You'll be led by bat expert Shari Blissett-Clark, president of the Florida Bat Conservancy. At 6 p.m., meet at Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, 8300 W. SR 46 in Sanford 32771. If you need more info, FriendsWekivaRiver@gmail.com or call 407-415-0705.

Only a third of the job getting done to protect Wekiva waters

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The Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run have a pollution problem. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous are harming the rivers’ health. Algae is one symptom of choking ecosystems.

But there is a plan to clean up Wekiva as well as other polluted waterways throughout the state. Friends of the Wekiva River has been working to ensure cleanup efforts will be successful for Wekiva but is concerned that the state is not fully addressing the sources of this pollution.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has estimated that about a million pounds of nitrogen in the Wekiva basin enter the waters each year. And it has developed detailed estimates of where it’s coming from. The major sources include septic tanks (29%), urban fertilizers (26 %), wastewater treatment facilities (17%), farm fertilizer (11 %) and sports turf fertilizer (7 %).

In 2008, FDEP set pollution limits, which are known as Total Maximum Daily Loads, for the Wekiva River, Wekiwa Springs and Rock Springs. For science types, here are the actual numbers: The TMDL is 0.286 milligrams per liter for total nitrogen and 0.065 milligrams per liter for total phosphorus. But nitrogen concentrations in the springs range from 0.8 to 1.4 milligrams per liter – about four times higher than what’s allowed. Phosphorous concentrations are about two to three times higher than the limit. Because of these violations, the state has designated the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run as “impaired due to total phosphorus and nitrate-nitrogen based on imbalance of aquatic flora…” (Wekiva Basin Management Action Plan, October, 2015).

The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act of 2016 requires FDEP to take action. One of the first steps is updating plans known as Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) for all first order magnitude springs and springs of regional significance, which includes the Wekiwa.  The plans outline projects that should be done to reduce pollution. The state also must identify Priority Focus Areas for each springshed and adopt a remediation plan for on-site treatment and disposal systems (septic tanks). For the Wekiva Basin, all of these elements must be completed by July 1, 2018.

FDEP started an update to the original 2015 Wekiva River BMAP in February 2016.  For the Wekiva BMAP update, the priority areas include places within the Wekiwa springshed where the travel time of groundwater within the Upper Floridan aquifer to Wekiwa and Rock Springs is one year or less.  Rainwater can take from days to thousands of years to work its way through our underground limestone labrynth and emerge in springs and rivers.

FDEP has asked stakeholders within the Wekiva Basin to propose projects that will reduce nitrogen pollution from sources such as wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, fertilizers, etc.  However, FDEP’s current approach does not address the entire nitrogen load to the basin.   Instead, the state is focusing only on the nitrogen discharged directly from Wekiwa and Rock Springs, approximately 300,000 pounds per year, which is less than one-third of the total nitrogen load to the Wekiva Basin.

The FOWR disagrees with FDEP’s approach and has recommended that officials revise it to address the entire nitrogen load to the basin because ntrogen entering the groundwater will eventually reach the springs.  FOWR believes that the BMAP update must identify strategies to reduce the entire load to reduce the nitrogen concentrations in the groundwater that is discharged from Wekiwa and Rock Springs.

FDEP has used the same approach in draft BMAPs for other springs.  The Florida Springs Council, which is a non-profit group composed of springs experts and advocates, has expressed concerns similar to ours. To date, FDEP has not indicated that it will change the approach. This is a disservice to the Wekiva and all Floridians. The uniqueness of our springs and rivers draws locals and tourists from around the world. Yet the state is putting our valuable environmental assets at risk. FOWR will continue working with the Florida Springs Council on strategies to persuade FDEP to change its approach and do what’s right for Florida’s environment, citizens and future generations.

GOOD NEWS: Wekiva Protections Still Strong After Interchange Threat

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GOOD NEWS: Wekiva Protections Still Strong After Interchange Threat

Friends of the Wekiva River members recently worked hard to oppose an additional interchange on the Wekiva Parkway being proposed by Lake County that would threaten the compromises made to conserve the Wekiva basin when the road was planned. The Wekiva Parkway Protection Act, which was approved by the Florida Legislature in 2004, is helping to safeguard our basin lands, waters, aquifer recharge, wildlife corridors and rural communities. The interchange proposed by Lake County threatened all of this.

A huge thank you to all of our members and friends who wrote emails and letters and made calls to help our efforts!

For those not familiar with the controversy or the history of the Wekiva Parkway, local and regional planning agencies began considering construction of a toll-road expressway surrounding metropolitan Orlando more than 40 years ago. A plan formulated in the mid-80’s proposed a segment that would travel through portions of the Wekiva basin (which consists of the Wekiva and portions of the St John’s Rivers along with their tributaries and associated lands) located in northwest Orange County, the City of Apopka, and Lake and Seminole counties. The Wekiva basin is part of a vast wildlife corridor that connects portions of Orange, Seminole and Lake counties with the Ocala National Forest.

Concerns related to expressway-associated development pressure, exacerbation of existing nutrient pollution problems in the springs and river system and potential decline in spring flow led the conservation community to rally for protective legislation related to the section of the expressway proposed to travel through the basin.

In response to these concerns, Governor Jeb Bush created the “Wekiva Basin Area Task Force” which was charged with evaluating and making recommendations concerning the most appropriate location for the portion of the expressway that would travel through the basin (which will connect SR 429 to I-4). In 2004, the Florida Legislature adopted the “Wekiva Parkway Protection Act” implementing the recommendations of the task force. The legislation requires that the 25-mile segment of the expressway to be constructed within the Wekiva basin and to be known as the “Wekiva Parkway” follow the task force design criteria.

The task force design criteria recommends, and the legislation therefore limits, the number of primary interchanges to be constructed on the Wekiva Parkway to the following three locations: Kelly Park Rd in Orange County SR 46 in Lake County I-4 /SR 417 in Seminole County The stated purpose of limited interchanges by the task force is “to assure that any proposed highway route does not result in added growth pressures within or affecting the Wekiva basin.”

Construction of the Wekiva Parkway began in 2015, and the first section completed by the Florida Department of Transportation in 2016 consisted of a 3.14-mile stretch of road located from CR 435 to SR 46. FDOT received a waiver to allow construction of temporary ramps at CR 435 to allow the public an opportunity to access and use the completed segment while the remainder of the road was being constructed. The temporary ramps are slated to be closed in 2018 once additional construction of the Wekiva Parkway is completed because they will no longer be needed at that time. The temporary ramps recently became the subject of debate because Lake County has sought to make their location an additional permanent interchange.

Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione, who represents the district in which Mount Plymouth is located, recently began advocating that the temporary CR 435 ramp location be made into a permanent interchange because she believes that motorists traveling from Apopka seeking access to the Wekiva Parkway will cut through Mount Plymouth using CR 435 as a shortcut to the SR 46 interchange that is being constructed in Lake County. She is concerned that this potential new traffic pattern will turn the local roads of the 4,000-resident Mount Plymouth community into a “superhighway.” In response to these concerns, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution on October 24, 2017 asking that the Florida Legislature authorize an additional permanent interchange at CR 435.

Because the temporary ramps were not designed to highway interchange standards, construction of a permanent interchange at the CR 435 location would not only require approval by the Florida Legislature, it would necessitate the acquisition of additional right-ofway, resulting in delay in completion of the Wekiva Parkway, and the accrual of additional construction costs that could exceed $20 million.

When news of Lake County’s plans became public, the City of Apopka passed a resolution on October 14, 2017 opposing the additional permanent interchange and urging any governmental entity that might consider the idea to firmly reject it. The Orange County Board of County Commissioners also discussed the topic at its November 14, 2017 meeting and declined to support a resolution making the CR 435 ramp location a permanent interchange. Although the Seminole County Board of County Commissioners has not formally considered the matter at one of its meetings, Commissioner and former State Senator Lee Constantine has vowed to fight against the additional interchange on the basis that any such construction would violate the public trust.

The area in question is located in Orange County and sits on the edge of the Wekiva River watershed that feeds dozens of lakes, springs and the Wekiva River. Charles Lee of the Florida Audubon Society has informed various governmental boards considering Lake County’s proposal that the task force specifically determined that an interchange at CR 435 would not be viable from an environmental standpoint. Historically, interchanges are magnets for development, and no community over time is capable of preventing the impact of traffic and land values from causing increases to denser land uses.

Commissioner Campione made a presentation requesting support for the CR 435 permanent interchange at the Central Florida Expressway Authority meeting conducted on December 14, 2017, and the proposal was soundly rejected. As part of the discussion by members of the Authority, the Lake County Commission representative who sits on the Authority made a public announcement that Lake County has decided to pursue funding for traffic calming measures on CR 435 instead of the additional permanent interchange. The traffic calming measures will consist of a series of round-abouts costing in excess of $1 million.

Lake County’s newly-announced plans to pursue an alternative to the additional permanent interchange at CR 435 is good news, but we must remain vigilant to ensure that the protections afforded by the Wekiva River Protection Act always remain in place. These protections underpin the very foundation of our community – the land and water that we rely on and hope to leave in pristine condition for generations to come.

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Bats in Your Backyard - Feb. 1

Did You Know? Bats do not "carry" rabies; in fact, only about one-half of one percent of bats contract the disease. More people die annually from rabies transmitted by domestic pets than have died from contact with bats in all of recorded history! Learn more about these mysterious animals during Bats in your Backyard, a free program Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Markham Woods Church of Seventh-day Adventists meeting room, 505 Markham Woods Road, Longwood, FL 32779, sponsored by Friends of the Wekiva River. Come and learn about these prolific mosquito eaters from Shari Blissett-Clark, President of the Florida Bat Conservancy. www.floridabats.org A bat hike will follow on Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. Meet at Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, 8300 W. State Road 46 Sanford, FL 32771. The presence of bats, however, isn’t guaranteed! For more information, contact FriendsWekivaRiver@gmail.com or call 407-415-0705.