Wekiwa Springs State Park
A view from one of the kayaks on the river; kayak rentals are available throughout the year for both adults and children.
A view of the shore, where the kayaks and canoes are rented. Crowds get really busy during the summer and warmer months.
Underwater caves are a core attraction at the park; dive hundreds of feet under clear water.
South East Side Clay Springs prior to 1940
Park ranger with Boy Scouts at Nature Center
Volunteer with WWT at Nature Center
Park ranger posing with Boy Scouts
Backstory and Context
This gorgeous state park has been active since around the turn of the century, specifically 1906. It was known as Clay Springs until that year, and known to be enjoyed by the locals. It used to be advertised as a spiritual place with healing waters, mostly to attract northerners. It was also used for lumber by the the Wilson Cypress Company.
Later, in 1941, it was bought by the Apopka Sportsman Club for hunting, fishing, and cabin rentals. In 1969, it was sold to the state of Florida to become the Wekiwa Springs State Park it is today. It is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System created by Congress in 1968; this was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The park has been used since around the turn of the 20th century. It was initially called Clay Springs known to be enjoyed by the locals and visitors; it was also advertised as a spiritual place with healing waters, mostly to attract northerners. This was common, since it brought 'snowbirds' to the south for a boost of tourism. It was used by the Wilson Cypress Company for lumber, but then later, in 1941, was bought by the Apopka Sportsman Club for hunting, fishing, and cabin rentals. In 1969, it was sold to the state of Florida to become the Wekiwa Springs State Park. Now it is known to both local and tourists as one of the gems of Central Florida.
The park itself is an area of prehistoric fossils, including sharks, mastodons, and mammoths. It is a great place for amateur fossil hunters and explorers. Some fauna that can be found in the park include alligators, native birds, deer, and larger predators like the black bear. Archaeological evidence indicates that Native Americans inhabited the area beginning around 8500 B.C.
The Wekiva River Basin State Parks consists of 40,952 acres of beautiful and bountiful nature and wildlife. Wekiwa Springs State Park makes up 9,441 acres which consist of 26 naturally "bubbling" springs. Wekiwa is a Native Creek Indian word meaning "bubbling" or "boiling" water. There is much confusion over the spelling of "Wekiwa" and that is simply because many years ago it was misspelled in a publication. According to Arthur E. Francke Jr., a historian and former board member of the Seminole County Historical Commission, "The confusion arises from the fact that the river, originally spelled as Wekiwa, over the years apparently through inattention and disregard for careful spelling, became known as Wekiva River" (Toner, July 1999). In fact, it is said that the letter "V" wasn't even in the Natives vocabulary (Bryant, Russel, 2017 Telephone Interview).
Before the land was purchased by the Apopka Sportsman's Club in 1941, the land is believed to have been a settlement of the Native American tribe Mayaca according to a speech given by an actual Native American of the Seminole tribe according to retired historian, Dr. Russell Bryant from University of Alabama who eagerly attained any and all information about Historic Wekiwa Springs. Many records state the Timecau tribe as the original settlers of the land. There are 50 known archaeological sites within the boundaries of the Wekiva River Basin State Parks. These are known as Middens and Shell Mounds in which the Natives created from piling their garbage up in one area. In the Middens and Mounds of mostly shell, have been found pottery fragments, botanical materials, animal bones, as well as many other artifacts that prove Wekiwa Springs was a settlement for the Native Americans. Though most of the mounds have been vandalized or damaged and are covered with vegetation, the artifacts found this far have been recorded and stored at the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research in Tallahassee.
Among the vegetation in Wekiwa Springs are 19 different plant communities (Philpott 3), more than any other State Park in Florida, that provide food and protection for the wildlife, including the Florida black bears, gopher tortoises and unique Sherman's fox squirrels. Sherman fox squirrels will often join you as you soak in the sun or pause to look at the panoramic view of the springs from the Nature Center and are eager to join you for a snack. Sherman Fox Squirrels are a larger tree squirrel that are uncommonly all black dorsal fur with some white ears and muzzle. They are listed as "Species of Special Concern" on the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (2001), so don't try to adopt one as a pet.
The Wekiwa Springs Nature Center is sponsored by the Wekiva Wilderness Trust (WWT) and is staffed solely by volunteers (Philpott 3). This is a citizens' supported organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment and promotion of nature-related activities with the Wekiva Basin. It is located at the top of the large hill overlooking the entire spring and if requested, you may schedule a tour with a park ranger and have hands on experience with the assorted animals. The Springs is also generous with it's knowledge of nature, allowing for a pleasant boardwalk through the dense wilderness. There are several hiking trails, too, allowing for exploration by foot or horseback.
The Wekiwa Spring maintains a consistent temperature that remains between 68 to 72 degrees and pumps more than 43 million gallons of water a day, classifying Wekiwa Springs as a second magnitude spring- a natural spring discharging between 6.4 and 64.6 million gallons a day. Wekiwa Springs State Park springs form the headwater of the 15 mile long Wekiva River which then flows into the St. Johns River which flows north in to Jacksonville and then discharges in to the Atlantic Ocean (Philpott 3). Areas around the St. Johns River were predominant settlements for the Native American tribes as the lush land made a great resource for fishing and hunting.
The history of the Native settlements is also brought to light during the Second Seminole War when Chief Coacoochee (c. 1808- 1857) fled from the Federates into the marshes of Wekiwa (Knetsch 105-106). Because of the dense forest hammock made mostly of oak trees and the floodplain swamps, Wekiwa Springs Basin Parks were an excellent source of camouflage during the Seminole Wars. Among these swampy lands are many small bubbling springs where you can still find artifacts, however; most are only sharks teeth as quoted by Thomas Confer, frequent visitor of the park over the last 20 years, and not the great mastodons that once ran wild. Because of the natural, massive force of the spring, the cave in which the water flows from is off limits; and even if you tried to weigh yourself down with a large boulder to try and get a close up, the flow makes that impossible (Confer, 2017 Aug).
"Wekiwa Springs State Park." Absolutely Florida. Accessed 2 November 2016. http://www.funandsun.com/parks/WekiwaSprings/wekiwa.html.
"Wekiwa Springs." St. Johns River Water Management District. Accessed 2, November 2016. http://www.sjrwmd.com/springs/wekiwa.html.
Barnes, Steven. "Springs provide Hints of History." Orlando Sentinel. Accessed November 4, 2016. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2000-07-22/news/0007220457_1_shark-teeth-wekiva-mastodon.
"Sherman's Fox Squirrel." http://fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Sciurus_niger_shermani.pdf. Retrieved September 2017.
Toner, Jim, "you say Wekiva," and I say "Wekiwa." Tribunedigital-orlandosentinel, July 20, 1999. https://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1999-07-20/news/9907200104_1_wekiwa-wekiva-springs-wekiva-river. Retrieved September 2017.
Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, Tallahassee, Florida. The Digital Archaeological Record, 2017. https://core.tdar.org/browse/creators/200575/florida-bureau-of-archaeological-research-tallahassee-f...
Wekiwa Springs looking southeast. 19-- Black & White photonegative. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 25 Oct. 2017. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/8910>
Philpott, Don. Wekiva River Basin State Parks. Wekiva Wilderness Trust, 2013.
Knetsch, Joe. Florida's Seminole Wars 1817- 1858. Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
Milanich, Jerald T. Florida's Indians from Ancient Times to the Present. University Press of Florida, 1998.
Gannon, Michael. The History of Florida. University Press of Florida, 1996.
Bryant, Russell. Personal interview. September and October 2017.
Confer, Thomas. Personal interview. October 2017.