This easy-to-find state park in High Springs (just north of Gainesville) is dissected by the Santa Fe River. I am always curious about name origination and more times than not Wikipedia provides the answer. The Santa Fe derives its name from a Franciscan mission, Santa Fe de Toloca, formerly located near the river. Santa Fe means “holy faith” in Spanish. Coincidentally one must have faith with this river, as it fully disappears in a large sink hole within O’Leno State Park, travels underground and resurfaces 3 miles downstream in River Rise Preserve State Park.
I assume High Springs was named for the numerous springs around the river and the sink holes that occasionally change location and the places where the river sinks and rises.
O’Leno was an interesting read.
You may recall I am not a fan of bridges and even the mild-mannered suspension bridge in the park gave me pause. This park is another Florida oldie, built by the CCC in the late 1930s. Trails, large pavilions, a youth camp and a large metal dock to swim in the river are all easily accessible. The forecast held a fair amount of rainy moments with thunder showers likely so we got going and headed out for the River Trail once settled.
Hadn’t walked very far when thunder rumbled and the sky went dark. Gotta love those pop-ups! Russ said better double time it back but I ran because getting drenched wasn’t on my to-do list but then neither was crossing the bridge twice. It hardly sways with one person, but two will make it move- wheeeeee.
We made it to a large pavilion and hung out with Betty for quite a while. She is a winter volunteer at Stephen Foster State Park (came to O’Leno for a few hours), playing violin to pay her way. She shared how volunteering works and that good vocational skills are in high demand. Was a pleasant way to pass the time and we got a picture of her tiny camper as she drove off.
We did get to walk the River Trail and others another day; Russ was also able to bike a few of the passable trails. Also pretty certain that the three-foot long black snake warming itself next to the path, raising its tail with a rattle noise before slithering away, was perhaps a rattlesnake???
We drove to downtown High Springs one afternoon in search of the Secret Garden Bakery (we found it!) and came upon the final day of the 2015 Model-T Gainesville Winter Tour. Must have been 30 of these beauties by the time they’d all parked across from a rustic and inviting restaurant.
The park has a tiny Nature Center with Friday-Sunday 10-2pm hours and the day we stopped they’d closed early. We met the outdoor gopher tortoises though.
The park had a prescribed burn (RX burn) last year and you can see the dark char still, as well as new growth. Important for keeping the habitat in balance.