Sun Burst

About This Episode

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 in the park (Volusia Blue Spring) is the largest on the St. Johns River. Due to its relatively warm temperature of 73 °F (23 °C), the spring attracts many Florida manatees during the winter. About 102 million US gallons of water flow out of Blue Spring into the St. Johns River every day.

Blue Spring State Park has 51 campsites and six cabins that can be rented. The camping area is pet friendly.

The spring runs a few miles long and features a boardwalk that stretches 1/3 of a mile from the St. Johns River to the headspring. All water-related activities are prohibited during manatee season (mid November–March). Qualified SCUBA divers can descend into the spring cave in season. Picnicking is a popular pastime, with multiple pavilions available for groups and scattered picnic tables around the entire park. The park also features volleyball courts and a playground, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. The old Thursby plantation house is being maintained and has historical displays that visitors can explore. Various wildlife besides manatees can be seen also, including alligators, bears, raccoons, and various species of birds. Hontoon Island State Park is a short paddle down the St. Johns River. Food-service, stores, and a water-activity rental station are available for supplies.

Gold Rush prospector turned orange-grower Louis Thursby purchased Blue Spring in 1856. Before the railroad rolled through in the 1880s, Thursby’s Blue Spring Landing was a hotbed of steamboat activity, shipping tourists and goods to Jacksonville and beyond. Mrs. Thursby was Orange City’s first postmistress.

‘The Forgotten Mermaids,’ an episode of the Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau, was filmed here in 1971. The documentary brought attention to the manatee and the importance of Blue Spring as a winter refuge, greatly influencing the state’s decision to purchase the land. Conservation measures can produce astounding results. In 1970, two years before Blue Spring State Park was established, researchers tracked 14 manatees in the spring run. By 2005, after years of park improvements and manatee protection efforts, wintering manatee numbers exceeded 200, and by 2018 that number skyrocketed to a record 485.