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Florida's Bear Country

Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
I did some hiking in the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area and came across the area where they keep bear traps.  In the image above I used  a bear trap to frame the Florida landscape.  I thought it was a fun image but I do not approve in any way the use of the bear traps in Florida.


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Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
The Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area extends along 12 miles of the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Rock Springs Run State Reserve.
Bear Trap in Black Bear Wilderness Area
Despite the area's name, access to Rock Springs Run and the Wekiva River is not possible (or extremely difficult) through the Wildlife Management Area.  The reserve is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and is home to the endangered Florida scrub-jay.
Bear Trap in Black Bear Wilderness Area
At the end of the access road I came across these medieval-looking torture chambers for bears. There seemed to be an awful lot of the car-sized traps and very few bears since the Governor and Cabinet decided to slaughter many of Florida's Black Bears last fall.  In fact, since the bear killing spree in the Fall of 2015 we have not seen one bear in our Debary neighborhood, just east of this area across the St. Johns River in Volusia County.
Bear Traps in Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
This recreation area appears to be geared more to hunters than hikers.  It is located in northwestern Orange and northeastern Lake counties approximately 30 miles north of Orlando or 5 miles west of Sanford on SR 46.

The area's 14,000 plus acres consist of sand pine and scrub oak, pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, and creek swamps.  This preserve was designed to be part of an important corridor for the endangered Florida Black Bear (that was before the Republicans took over Tallahassee and decided that development was more important than endangered species).


Bear Traps and Sun in Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
Other rare and endangered species were to be protected by the area including the aforementioned Florida scrub-jay, the endangered gopher tortoise, the endangered eastern indigo snake, the very rare gopher frog, and the threatened Sherman's fox squirrel.
Bear Trap in Black Bear Wilderness Area
It appears Florida spent a lot of money on these many, many bear traps.
Bear Traps in Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
I came to this area looking for the Rock Spring Run.  Rock Spring Run is much more easily accessible from Kelly Park in Apopka.  More on that in a future blog post.  All of this area is dotted with springs and I'm attempting to document all the springs before development ruins this unique and wild land.

SIGNS
All these signs reminded me of the Five Man Electrical Band song "Signs."
Their lyrics are between the signs that I found
in the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
Warning Signs in Black Bear Wilderness Area
Signs, Signs, Everywhere there's signs.
Blocking out the scenery.  Breaking my mind.
Do this!  Don't do that!  Can't you read the signs?
Warning Signs in Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
And the sign says, "Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight
So I jumped on fecne and I yeleed at the house,
Hey!  What gives you the right. . . to put up a fence to keep me out,
Or to keep Mother Nature in?
If God was here, he'd tell it to your face.
'Man, you're some kind of sinner.
Warning Signs in the Black Bear Wilderness Area
And the sign says, "Long-haired freaky people need not apply."
So I tucked all my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why.
He said, "You look like a fine, upstanding young man, I think you'll do."
So I took off my hat and said, "Imagine that! Huh. . . me, working for you!" 

Oh, say now mister, can't you read?
You got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat.
You can't even watch, no, you can't eat.  You ain't supposed to be here!
And the sign says, "You gotta have a membership card to get inside."
Warning Sign at Katie's Landing State Park on the Wekiva River
And the sign says "Everybody's welcome to come in and kneel down and pray."
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all,
I didn't have a penny to pay.
So I got me a pen and paper and I made up my own little sign.
I said, Thank you Lord for thinking about me.  I'm alive and doing fine."
No Toilet Paper Left Behind Sign
 Signs, Signs, Everywhere there's signs.
Blocking out the scenery.  Breaking my mind.
Warning Signs Rock Spring Run Wildlife Management Area
Do this! Don't do that! Can't you read the signs?
End of Road Signs in Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
The Canadian rock group's "Signs" was first released in 1970 on their second album, Good-byes and Butterflies.  It was relatively unsuccessful that year but it was re-released in 1971 as an A-side single and reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It went on to become a gold record and was covered and recorded live by Telsa for their Five Man Acoustical Jam album in 1990 peaking at number 8 on the Pop charts.  The song or parts of its timeless lyrics have appeared through the decades, most recently by the Evolution Control Committee on the track "Freak People" from their 2011 album All Rights Reserved.
Ride a Horse?  Its all your fault if you get hurt sign. . . Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area
So, enough with the signs.  The bottom line is that the Rock Springs Reserve's 14,000 acres are a slice of old Florida sand hills that are worth a look but there are no facilities, no food, and as you saw in one of the signs above, if you bring and use your own toilet paper, you have to take it with you when you leave.

Wekiva Falls Springs
Wekiva Falls RV Resort
I tried to find the original name of the Wekiva Falls Spring but I find nothing in the literature. This is one of the most defaced and Disneyfied springs in Florida as is evidenced from these images. A fountain-like structure has been built over the top of the spring boil and the area around the spring planted with exotic grass and ringed with Canary Island Date Palms.   It couldn't be any further from natural Florida if they'd tried.  Add to that the entire area is surrounded by a massive RV Trailer park.  Yeah. . . its not my thing.
Wekiva Falls RV Resort
One story goes that In the early 1970’s an application, and plans to construct a marina and campground was submitted to Lake County for the area around what is now Wekiva Falls. The natural spring, was shown in those original plans, but it was a trickle compared to the current flow.

Reportedly, as a condition of approval, Lake County required the spring flow be terminated while dredging the proposed Wekiva Canoe Creek marina basin, to prevent turbid water from entering the Wekiva River. The land owner compiled with this requirement by having well drillers drive two large casings into the spring vents, each with a control valve.  Hard to imagine defacing an ancient and unique geologic feature in such a way. . . but. . .  Water cascading from these tall pipes was responsible for the “Wekiva Falls” name.

The new "spring" discharges 13 million gallons of water per day (or more) from the Floridan aquifer drawing down other nearby springs, and is anything but "natural."   Its more like a massive well that has no off switch. That's over 4 billion gallons of water per year.  Decades of court battles have resulted in a compromise where the giant casings are now fitted with regulators to slow the flow to only about 2.5 billion gallons of water per year.
Panorama of swimming area at Wekiva Falls Resort (compilation of 30 photos to give 360 degree view)
Above, a panorama composite of 30 images.  In this panorama it looks more like something one would see in the desert southwest than in Florida.

Click on the image for a large view

The flow seems rather robust today.  The spring (or runaway well or whatever it is) completely quit flowing in the early 2000s but resumed in 2009.
Sun and Spanish Moss on the Wekiva River at Katie's Landing State Park
 Nearby in the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park and Black Bear Wilderness Area there are scenes more suited to my sensibilities.  
Black Bear Wilderness Area
The Black Bear Wilderness Area encompasses about 1600 acres between the Lower Wekiva Preserve, the Wekiva River, The St. Johns River and the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area.  This area is true Florida Hammock which seems a world away from the dry uplands of the Rock Spring Run area.

The Black Bear Wilderness is located in wetlands adjacent to the floodplain of the St. Johns River.  It includes Wet Prairies, Hydric Hammock and Cypress Swamps.  Its large size and proximity to the other public lands in the area make this site an important piece of the Black Bear Corridor in Central Florida.
Live Oaks and Ancient Palms in the Black Bear Wilderness Area
Wekiva River Hydrology
There are currently 31 named springs within the Wekiva basin. Six of these feed directly or indirectly into the Wekiva River, four feed into Rock Springs Run, five feed into the Little Wekiva River and sixteen feed into the Black Water Creek and Seminole Creek drainage basin. Wekiwa Springs and Rock Springs are second magnitude and the remaining 29 springs have a lower flow. Taken together, this complex of springs provides hundreds of millions of gallons of water per day into the various drainages of the Wekiva River basin.
Idyllic scene on the Wekiva River in the Black Bear Wilderness Area
Where Does Florida Spring Water Originate?
The water that feeds the springs, which in turn feed the headwaters (or spring runs) of two major tributary streams for the Wekiva River, is groundwater. Florida’s spring systems are governed by complex hydrologic forces that cause water to recharge the underlying aquifer through permeable soils or fissures, travel through a karst network of underground conduits and porous limestone, and eventually return to the surface. 

The water that appears at spring boils may have been under the ground for days, weeks, months, years, or decades depending upon its path from the surface and through the aquifer. Much of the water in the Wekiva River System comes from rain that falls outside the boundaries of public lands in an area known as the Wekiva springshed. Although the boundaries of surface watersheds are relatively easy to identify, springshed boundaries are more difficult to define. However, the quality and quantity of water in the aquifer and springs is affected by land uses just as surface waters are affected by land uses.
Sun and Cypress on the Wekiva River in the Black Bear Wilderness Area
The Wekiva River begins in Wekiwa Springs State Park, and shortly downstream connects with the mouth of Rock Springs Run. Further downstream, two other major tributaries, the Little Wekiva River and Black Water Creek, flow into the Wekiva River prior to its connection to the St. Johns River at Debary. Rock Springs Run and Black Water Creek flow predominantly through state-owned land and remain relatively undisturbed, whereas the Little Wekiva River is located primarily within urbanized central Florida. The Wekiva River continues for about 14 miles and downstream (just north) of Lake Monroe it enters the St. Johns River at Debary.
Wekiva River near where it meets the St. Johns River at Debary
The beauty and ecologic value provided by this spring system are numerous, as are the challenges in management and improvement of these complex systems. The key concern in the Wekiva River is runaway development threatening the springs that feed the system. Also of concern are high nutrient levels, particularly nitrate, that can result in excessive algal growth within the spring runs. Nitrates originate from human activities in the area (horticultural, septic tanks, etc.).
Reflections on the Wekiva River in the Black Bear Wilderness Area



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