Blue Spring State Park

Intro / Description

There’s been a lot of news here recently about all the Manatees at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida – so I decided to go over and look for myself.

Many Manatees Around 20 Manatees in this one photo – There were more than 200 there on the day I went and the count’s been over 330 on some recent days.

Louis Thursby bought Blue Spring in 1856 and ran a steamboat landing.  The steamboats shipped people and goods up and down the St. Johns River and stopped at the landing until the 1880s.  The area became pretty run down until the state purchased the land in the 1960s and established the park.

There’s lots to do:  Plenty of picnic areas;  Hiking and nature trails; Cabins and a campground for overnight stays; Canoes and kayaks to rent;  And you can even take a River Boat tour right from the park. We’ve been several times in the past but I hadn’t visited in years.  It brought back very fond memories of tubing down the run from the spring and of our kids shivering in the 72 degree water, but enjoying it so much they refused to get out.  When I used to scuba dive (a very long time ago), I dove to the bottom of the spring.  In retrospect, that was at least a little reckless – people have died in there.

Info for Photographers

Photo hints:

You can’t go in the water when the Manatees are there.  But a lengthy boardwalk running from the St. Johns up to the spring  provides many vantage points for photos.  The Manatees are all along the run, but many congregate in the swimming area where you can get very close.

You must bring your Polarizer to cut the reflections so you can better see the manatees under the surface.  Remember this will block a couple stops of light.  And since the water is in shade in many places you may be a little starved for light.  A camera / lens with vibration reduction / optical stabilization and good output at higher ISOs (~640) will come in handy.

Take a breath

Take a breath – A manatee surfaces at Blue Springs State Park

Tripod/Monopod: They’re allowed, but crowds could make tripods a problem.  I left mine at home.

Lenses:

I used a 24 – 120 f/4 lens and was happy with it.  I really didn’t want to switch lenses (and polarizers) so the focal length range on this came in handy.  At times I wished for a little more reach but I could usually find another Manatee closer to me.  I also wished for a wider aperture (f/2.8?), but the stabilization made this lens my best choice.

Best time to visit: Visit during a wintertime cold snap for the best chance of seeing Manatees.  They can draw a crowd and the park is closed early to new arrivals if it fills up.  Go on a weekday or get there very early on a weekend to make sure you get in. For other activities, you’ll  have to work around their schedule – all water activities are prohibited when there’s a Manatee in the water.  For swimming, tubing, snorkeling / diving,  and kayaking in the spring run go when they aren’t there (March 15th – November 15th). Other: Manatees are the main attraction in the winter, but there are other animals there too.  I’ve seen Alligators, wild pigs, and common Florida birds  (e.g. Herons, Egrets, Anhingas, Limpkins, Wood Storks, Red Shouldered Hawks, and Vultures).  Other folks have reported some not so common Florida Birds like Florida Scrub Jays and Barred Owls, – so keep your eyes open! And there’s a three-story home built built by the original owners that’s worth a visit.

The Louis P. Thursby House The Louis P. Thursby House was built in 1872 at Blue Springs State Park

Summary

Manatees are on the endangered species list.  Blue Spring provides a unique opportunity to see these large animals up close.  If you’ve thought about going to Blue Spring, now’s the time.  If you haven’t thought about going to Blue Spring, now’s the time! You can find out a lot about Manatees at the Save the Manatee Club  website, including updated reports on conditions and counts at Blue Spring on this web page.

My Gallery /  Flickr photo set:  Blue Spring on Flickr
Website:  http://www.floridastateparks.org/bluespring/
Address / Phone: 2100 W. French Avenue Orange City, Florida 32763
(386) 775-3663
Central Florida Photo Ops Rating: A Central Florida Photo Ops Must Do!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now, go make some photos! ©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

8 thoughts on “Blue Spring State Park

  1. Great shots and fascinating blog, including the helpful hints. Got me curious about why they were so far inland when I’ve always thought of them as marine, doh. After that I had to look up allsorts – how they breathe, what they eat, etc etc. So I’m thinking it’s Ed short for Educative.

    1. Thanks, Rhona. Apparently they move around quite a bit. There was one manatee there with barnacles on it’s back which it couldn’t have gotten in fresh water. So it had to swim over from the coast. I think other manatees spend most of their time in fresh water.

  2. Once again, Ed, you have painted an an aura of specialness on a location that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. I can recall actually swimming at the springs ‘way back in the ’60’s. Magical place filled with magical critters, even back then. Thanks!

    1. Hey Sully!

      We didn’t ever go there until the 80s (with the kids). They loved it of course. Last week was the first time I ever went specifically to see manatees. I was very surprised by how many were there. It is magical!

      Thanks so much for your kind words.

      Ed

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