DeLeon Springs State Park is so popular in the summer that I had been advised to avoid it until fall. It’s a good distance from Gainesville, too. These deterrents kept me away from the springs until this past week, when I visited just in time to catch the last swimmers of the season.
Like Rainbow Springs, DeLeon Springs was once a major tourist attraction. The park’s history is outlined in a small exhibit showing old photos of a waterskiing baby elephant named Sunshine Sally, who drew crowds in the 1950s when the park was the privately owned Ponce de Leon Springs. Today, the big secondary draw is a make-your-own-pancake restaurant called the Old Spanish Sugar Mill. Waits of 90 minutes are not uncommon.
The springs is located just beyond the far southeastern edge of the Ocala National Forest, in Deland. To get there, we had to drive through the forest and then cut out of Barberville headed south. This drive would have been monstrous in the summer and not worth the effort since there are springs in the forest that are just as good. I’m not a huge fan of the springs for the simple reason that I dislike the idea of stomping on vegetation or of having vegetation wrap around my feet or fish nibble on my toes. I do like to photograph them and the people using them, though.
Since a springs is always 72 F, it strikes me as odd that so few people were swimming on a day when the temperature was 87 F. I can understand not using a pool or the ocean; the nighttime temperatures have been falling and the water doesn’t heat up as much as it does in the summer. But the springs is consistent and the day was warm and only a handful of people were in the water. I realized later that “warm” was the operative word. Temps in the eighties are like temps in the sixties everywhere but in Florida. A day that is merely warm is not a swimming day. It gets so hot in Florida during the summer that anything else feels cool. The body is set on the Florida thermostat and there is no changing it.
DeLeon Springs has a number of rentable pavilions. Some of these were in use as staging areas for picnics, but one was in use for an informal country/western concert that attracted four listeners in addition to Mr. B. and me. What the band lacked in talent they made up for in earnestness.