How You Can Help Florida Springs

one of Florida springs near Tampa surrounded. by cypress trees
Florida springs are amazing, but they need your help, Here’s how you can keep them special and pristine. 
Photo by Cathy Salustri

This week on the podcast, Ryan Smart, Executive Director of the Florida Springs Council, joined me and Rick to answer a listener’s questions about Florida springs.

Last week, I spoke in Ocala about Florida springs, and after the talk, Meg Young, who was in the audience, had more questions. Here’s what we told her about how you can help Florida springs.

Q: If the springs naturally come to the surface, why would the bottled water companies need permits to pump out? Would they not just capture the water as it surfaces? Or are they forcing the spring to produce more than natural? 

A: We answer this more in-depth in the podcast, but it’s because they don’t scoop the water out of the springhead — they tap the spring with a well, and they need permission for that. And it’s actually taking away from spring production, not the other way around.

Q:  I remember years ago when I lived in Orlando there was a Spring on the westbound lanes of Hwy. 17-92 in Longwood and people, including myself, would just stop with empty milk bottles and fill up with the spring water and drink it at home. They have since shut the location off from the public and I don’t know the current status of that water.

A: That’s near the now-gone famous tree in Sanford, the Senator, and it is closed to the public. Rick has memories of this and talks about it on the ‘cast.

Q: How many gallons of water does a third-magnitude spring produce per minute? 

A: Between 1-10 cubic feet per second, so that’s between 60 and 600 cubic feet per minute.

Q: Could you repeat the ways to help Florida springs? 

A: We’d be glad to!

  1. Stop drinking bottled water.
  2. Plant Florida-friendly landscaping.
  3. Turn off your irrigation or change to drip irrigation.
  4. Don’t fertilize.
  5. Connect with and support with a group advocating for springs. A great start is the Florida Springs Council or any of Florida’s  Riverkeepers. Get involved!

Things You Can Do To Help Florida Springs

Berkey water filters

Five-gallon water jugs and USB water jug dispensers

Speak out against bad bills, like these.

Links We Mentioned

Santa Fe Springs Celebration (April 27, 2024)

Take a road trip to these Florida springs — but be careful to leave no trace!

Florida Tiki Madness

a map of Florida with a cartoon images such as the sun and a blonde woman on a surfboard superimposed on it. Representative of Florida Tiki
Florida Tiki culture is strong.
Photo of mural at April’s Tiki-a-Go-Go by Cathy Salustri

Earlier this month I spoke at Tiki-a-Go-Go, a new Tiki con in Orlando. The organizers approached me last year in April at the Floridania Fest in Gulfport, and I gave two talks: One on the history of Orange Bird and one on haunted Florida. I appreciate Tiki fans, Tiki ephemera, and had a blast — although I’m not nearly as hard-core as some of these peeps are.

Tiki-a-Go-Go was wonderful. It was small-ish but sold out — organizers wanted to make sure they kept it small the first year, I suppose. In addition to a bevy of Tiki-related talks, the event had plenty of Disney Adventureland talks, too. (In addition to Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Tiki fans love the Jungle Cruise, SEA, and that part of Disney culture… and I can’t blame them.)

All the Tiki madness started my podcast co-host, Rick Kilby, and I thinking about Florida Tiki.

Our most recent podcast focuses on exactly that: Florida Tiki. Take a listen.

Find the show notes below, and if you’re in Gulfport next weekend (April 27) , come see me at the Floridania Fest at the Casino. Mention the website or the podcast and get a free Florida Spectacular tee or magnet (as supplies last.)

Shout Out to Black Coral Rum

Finally, Black Coral Rum sponsored the podcast this month, and they sent Rick and I some tasty bottles to try. Their tagline is “Distinctly Florida Rum” and their branding includes the state flag, so I was on board before I took my first sip. Now I’m a convert, though — especially their black rum, which is definitely a sipping rum. Their white rum begs for a Cuba Libre, but their spiced rum is probably my favorite. More sampling may be required. Please check them out — sponsors like Black Coral Rum keep me from having to take a side gig selling auto insurance.

We now return to our regularly scheduled Florida Tiki post.

Florida Tiki Podcast Show Notes

Florida Tiki Bars
Bahi Hut in Sarasota
The Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale (Rick’s post)
Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale (Rick’s post)
Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Walt Disney World
Bar Tiki on Clearwater Beach
Florida Tiki Events
The Hukilau (Rick’s post)

Camping at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park

Two signs. One large one reading Marjorie Kinna, and a smaller one in front of it that reads Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park 13 miles, with an arrow pointing to the right of the frame. Both are by the camping at Marjorie Kinna Rawlings State Park
I found these two unused signs at the camping area at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. No, I did not steal them. Yes, that was a challenge.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Want to know a secret way to go camping at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park? Well, it’s not actually a secret, but so few people take advantage of it that it may as well be one.

a trail in the woods by the camping at Marjorie Kinna Rawlings State Park
Banyan has no need to obey human signs. 
Photo by Cathy Salustri

I love camping in Florida, but I love it even more when I don’t have to share the campground with too many people. And Florida campgrounds — especially since COVID-19 — have a lot of people. So much so, it’s ridiculously tough to get a campsite, especially if you don’t plan almost a year ahead.

That’s not hyperbole; Floridians know you need to plan 11 months ahead to get a campsite, and, if it’s popular, be logged in to the Florida State Parks online reservation system before 8 a.m. (when new spots come available every morning), and not spend time choosing a site (rookie mistake — do that well before!). And still… sites can still sell out. Don’t refresh; don’t dally — know what you want, get in there, and get your site by 8:01 a.m. or don’t get it at all. It’s like a Gladiator movie.

There are a few other ways to camp at Florida State Parks, though.

Barry and I have often talked about volunteering as camp hosts, in part to get a longer stay at a preferred campground, and in part because it is, technically, free, to camp as a camp host. But — and this, for us, is a big “but” — most places with camp hosts  require those camp hosts to clean bathrooms and showers. Now, I’m not above cleaning a bathroom, especially when it’s mine, but I’ve seen these campground bathrooms. People are pigs. I’ll pay my $32 a night, thank you very much.

But late last year, the folks at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park asked me to give a writer’s talk, and I readily agreed. While I could, technically, have made the drive there and back in one day, it would have made for a long day… and it wouldn’t have been much fun. Also, I hate the stress of traffic and “will I be late or won’t I?” (as  I have a chronic time problem, this comes up a lot), and traffic through Tampa and Ocala is never a good time. If you’ve visited the park, you know it’s not near any hotels. Any. As in, none.

Florida State Parks had no campgrounds available… well, essentially anywhere, much less anywhere close enough to camp near Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park. I asked the ranger who asked me to give a writer’s talk — Geoff — for suggestions for other campgrounds, going against my longstanding aversion to private campgrounds. Alas, the commercial campgrounds didn’t have anything, either (and, honestly, compared to Florida’s state parks, they looked awful).

Geoff had one other idea: Since I wasn’t getting paid for the talk, I was technically a volunteer, and, if they had a vacancy, Barry and I could camp at the park. The park, you see, has no campground (and thus no showers), so most people can’t camp there. But volunteers can, and take advantage of one of the two campsites with full hookups. If you RV camp, this phrase — full hookups — is music to your ears. And your grey water tank.

Volunteering and Camping at Camping Marjorie Rawlings Park

So, while I wasn’t a typical volunteer, I was volunteering. We happily took advantage of one of the two campsites, and friends, I will be back.

Camping at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park means one of two campsites, shielded from public view. To get to the public areas of the park, you walk a short trail. It’s an ideal commute, really.

What does volunteering entail at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park?

Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's cottage, located near the camping at Marjorie Kinna Rawlings State Park
The barn looked lovely and smelled even lovelier after the volunteers applied linseed oil.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Gardening. Tending the chickens and ducks. Picking citrus. The weekend we were there, a group gathered to maintain the barn (the smell of linseed oil was heavenly). In short, light work. No bathrooms (the County owns and operates those, slightly outside park boundaries), no showers, and — this was the best part — after the park closes, no people.

a hand holding a small orange and a large orange in the woods
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park: Citrus everywhere. People? Not so much.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

OK, not “no” people — two other people, the other campers volunteering with us. We visited in late February, and they planned to stay through April. This, I should note, is much longer than the traditional Florida camper can occupy a spot in the parks.

There’s also something magical about being at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ homestead at twilight. One night, as the park shut down to day visitors, I walked the citrus-lined path between our RV and her home, and it was glorious.

During the day, a pileated woodpecker pecked at an aging tree, birds flitted through the now-mostly wild groves, and the vibration of visitors hummed through the property. But at dusk, the sun cast a warm orange glow, the sky turned a pinkish purple, and the sound of the wilderness overtook everything else.

The ducks and chickens were settled in their pens, and as the staff cleared out, I had the freeing feeling of being wholly abandoned to nature.

It was a wonderful feeling, and one I can’t get so many places in Florida. A peace settled over me, and took my time picking my way back through the darkness, where my RV waited.

I should mention the citrus, because that was amazing.

In all my visits to the park, I didn’t realize you could pick the citrus; I thought, like with any state park, you should “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” This is not the case at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park: Anyone can pick the copious amounts of citrus (winter, of course, is the best time for this.) Volunteers also can harvest what’s in the garden.

A hand holding a grapefruit in the woods
Ever had feral Duncan grapefruit? I’d call it wild grapefruit but it started out domestic…
Photo by Cathy Salustri

I found and picked Duncan grapefruits as big as my head. Well, almost as big as my head. And yes, when we got them home and I stuck my spoon into them, they tasted amazing.

The writer’s talk went amazingly well. The audience was wonderful, the questions thoughtful, and the entire afternoon well done. I’m pleased we camped instead of attempting to drive home, because the talk exhausted me (but in a good way.)

Then we could disappear into the wilderness.

Talk aside, I can’t say enough good things about the park. I loved the almost-complete solitude of camping. The hiking trails, although short, reminded me that wild Florida isn’t as far away as we think it is. Walking the trails through the overgrown citrus groves gave me a sense of appreciation for what Marjorie sought and found here.

Within about two hours of arriving, we’d started talking, mostly hypothetically, about buying the 40 acres for sale across from the park.

After spending not only the day but a night there, I can wholly and completely see why Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings decided to chuck it all and move to what was then the edge of Florida’s wilderness.

Want to volunteer? Sign up with Florida State Parks.

Florida road trips.