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Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park is a state park located west of Orange City, Florida in the United States.

The park is a popular tourist destination; available activities include canoeing, SCUBA diving, kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking, wildlife watching, and swimming. The spring is the largest on the St. Johns River and serves as the winter home of many Florida manatees that come up the St. Johns to bask in the relatively warm waters (constant 72 Fahrenheit/21 Celsius) of the springs. Over 100 million gallons of water flow out of Blue Spring into the St. Johns River every day.

History

The spring was visited by botanist John Bartram in 1766.

The spring and surrounding land was acquired by the Thursby family in the mid-19th century and a large plantation-style home built upon a shell mound on the property. The area was excellent for cultivation of citrus fruit, and a small railway was built linking Orange City to the dock at Blue Spring. Ultimately, the Florida East Coast Railway was constructed not far from the present-day park. Unfortunately, a killing freeze occurred in the 1890s, wiping out area citrus groves and driving the industry south. The Thursbys switched to the tourist trade, taking advantage of the beautiful spring and excellent fishing and hunting opportunities along the St. Johns River.

The park was acquired by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 1972 to kick-start its Manatee Protection Program.

Recreation opportunities

Fifty-one campsites (27 have electric) and six cabins are available for those who wish to stay at the park. Swimming is very popular on hot summer days, but is banned during Manatee season. Qualified Scuba divers can descend into the spring cave in season as well. Picnicking is a popular pastime, with pavilions available for groups. The old Thursby plantation house is being maintained and has historical displays. Various wildlife besides manatees can be seen as well. Hontoon Island State Park is a short paddle down the St. Johns River.
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