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How to make a splash – Local spots to take a dip

By Sandy Beck

With gas at four dollars a gallon, weekend trips to St. George Island or Cape San Blas may not be possible this summer. So consider my Plan B: springs, sinkholes, lakes and Gulf Coast beaches, all within one hour of Tallahassee. So close, in fact, you could go for a swim after work.

As water flows from the Red Hills to the coast, snaking its way through underground limestone channels and caverns, it occasionally surfaces through sinkholes and pushes up into springs.

Take the plunge. That is the only way to enter the icy, 70 degree water of a natural spring. Once you catch your breath, you’ll discover that springs are rich in wildlife, from dancing eelgrass and Florida softshell turtles to great blue herons and prothonotary warblers.

Wacissa River Springs: Nearly 20 springs within 1.5 miles of its headwaters form the Wacissa River. I took this photo of the swimming platform at Big Blue Spring from our canoe as we enjoyed an eerie dawn chorus of limpkins, now sadly absent from Wakulla Springs. Take U.S. 27 south and east (toward Perry), turn south onto SR 59, drive through the town of Wacissa until the road dead-ends at the headwaters.

Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, forms the Wakulla River. Snorkel along the boundary rope from the dive platform to see mullet and gar glide beneath you. Float on your back and watch an osprey soar overhead. I’ll never understand how the alligators learn to read the “No swimming beyond ropes” signs. Take US-319/SR-61 (Crawfordville Hwy) south to SR-61 (Wakulla Springs Rd), left to SR-267, right into park entrance.

If icy water isn’t your style, check out a local sinkhole, lake or a nearby coastal beach.

Cherokee Sink, a beautiful, circular, jade-green pool surrounded by tall trees (and lots of poison ivy), has been a popular, local swimming hole for a hundred years. On a recent Sunday afternoon, we counted 78 people. After the state acquired it in 1999, an intense cleanup effort restored the sink to a more natural state. Because there's no shallow place to wade, the sink is not recommended for young children or inexperienced swimmers. Take US-319/SR-61 (Crawfordville Hwy) south to SR-61 (Wakulla Springs Rd), cross 267 and continue south 1.4 miles to entrance on right.

Silver Lake in the Apalachicola National Forest is a beautiful lake with a wheelchair-accessible, white sandy beach. A one-mile interpretive trail winds around the lake. Go west on Road 20, left on Silver Lake Rd to Forest Rd 358, left on Forest Rd 371.

Dog Lake is a hot spot in the summer for locals. Go south on S. Monroe St., right on Orange Ave., left on Springhill Rd., right on Dog Lake Tower Rd., right on Forest Rd 323.

Lake Hall at Maclay Gardens State Park, just one and three-quarters of a mile north of I-10 on Thomasville Rd is open 8:00 a.m. to sunset.

Alligator Point is a public beach just 45 miles south of Tallahassee. At US 98 cross the bridge at Panacea and turn left on CR 370.

Bald Point State Park offers access to two Apalachee Bay beaches. From Panacea, go south on Hwy 98, left on SR 370, left onto Bald Point Road to the park entrance.

Mashes Sands is now a county-maintained beach. Off US 98, before the bridge over Ochlocknee Bay, turn west on Mashes Sands Rd and follow it two and one-half miles to the beach.

Shell Point Beach is on a small peninsula surrounded by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. From U.S. 98 east of Medart, go south on Spring Creek Hwy, take left fork.

While you enjoy your swim, protect the delicate aquatic ecosystem by not disturbing native vegetation, observing wildlife quietly and from a distance and, before you leave, carefully inspecting your clothing and equipment to ensure you don’t give sneaky hitchhikers—invasive aquatic plants such as hydrilla or exotic snails—a free ride.

Have a wonderful summer while you escape Tallahassee’s sweltering summer days at these accessible watery jewels. I’ll see you there.

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