Wakulla and Sally Ward Springs, Wakulla County, April 2017

Wakulla Springs is, with Silver and Rainbow Springs, among the largest of Florida’s springs and probably among the largest freshwater springs in the world (~800 cfs).  Of the three, it felt the most remote and untouched to me, although they all have been touched and it’s probably busier in the summer.  The land that surrounds the springhead was sold to the state by Edward Ball in the 1960s.  He had owned the land since the 1930s and the lodge, which still hosts guests, was his personal guesthouse.  Besides leaving behind a lovely lodge for visitors, unique for a state park, Ed Ball required that use of the spring would be limited.  To this day, on the park’s land, people are only allowed in or on the spring at the headspring, where swimming is allowed, or on a tour boat which only goes down the run to about the first turn of the big spring.


A small portion of the Wakulla Spring headspring.

Wakulla lodge

Wakulla lodge interior2.JPG

The lodge at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.

Wakulla Springs is just south of Tallahassee, but driving up to it, it feels much more remote.  The landscape around the park is a mixture of forest, low density housing, and agriculture.

Wakulla aerial

Google Earth image of the landscape around Wakulla Springs.

Wakulla aerial closeup

A closer Google Earth image gives a better picture of the magnitude of the spring.  The tree islands are visible at this altitude, as is Sally Ward spring entering into the spring just below the headspring.

Besides a peaceful stay in a beautiful 1930s lodge with a delicious dinner and a great hike in gorgeous forest around the lodge, this trip was amazing because I was literally the only one on the water in the morning.  After the very helpful park biologist unlocked the gate to let me down to the water, I was completely alone with the big water, the trees, and the critters.

my kayak

My kayak right before I went out to work.  The platforms are part of the limited swimming area.

me at wakulla

Me, not believing my luck with the spring run stretching behind me…

Once I pushed away from the beach, I did a tour of the headspring.  I think that it was the deepest spring that I visited during my spring survey.  Unlike the other springs that I visited, I couldn’t even see the bottom of the vent on the video.


These unidentified catfish look like they’re swimming down into an abyss in the Wakulla headspring.  I was impressed.

mullet in wakulla2

These mullet (Mugil cephalus) also look like they’re swimming into nothingness.

I did my best to record fish at the headspring of Wakulla and I was successful along the bank, but the catfish on the edge of the vent were too deep to identify.

After looping around the headspring a couple of times, I turned down the enormous run.

wakulla in the morning3

Looking down the run from the headspring.  The tour and park staff boats are visible on the right side of the photo.

The tree islands were especially beautiful and as I neared them, I discovered that they were loud with bird calls.  The park attributes the high density of birds in the park to the limited human use.  They may well be right; there were impressive numbers of birds and alligators.  I saw more alligators at Wakulla than anywhere else.

Wakulla tree islands 2

A tree island just down from the headspring.

Wakulla tree islands 3

Another view of tree islands.

Wakulla in the morning

If I remember correctly now, I took this photo at the first turn in the spring, as I was coming around the corner, so to speak.

wakulla tree and egret

The dominant impression of this photo is the lovely old cypress, but a closer inspection reveals an egret as well.  Even the wildlife, which was abundant, seemed dwarfed here.

After paddling down past the second curve in the spring, I turned around and headed back upstream to start my shallow water bank videos.  Instead of retracing my path exactly, I went on the other side of a giant tree island.  The wind had begun to kick up and the side channel was very peaceful.

wakulla side channel

The side channel near the headspring of Wakulla.

Although I didn’t get great videos of the vent at the headspring, the videos from the bank were good.

Bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei) and mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) on the edge of the headspring.  Mosquitofish are literally everywhere and bluefins are right behind them.  These male bluefins were showing off their blue dorsal fins in a territorial display.

As is pretty obvious in the video above, there was algae at Wakulla, although I have definitely seen worse.  I went to Wakulla Spring in part because it has been held up as an example of how nutrient reduction can work.  The concentration of nitrate in the spring peaked at over 1 mg/L in 2000 or so and, through nutrient redirection, it is now down to 0.3-0.4 mg/L (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/watersheds/docs/bmap/Wakulla-BMAP.pdf), which is really remarkable.

Eelgrass (Vallisneria americana) or Sagittaria partially on the bottom of Wakulla Springs run.

I applaud the nutrient reductions and the commitment to restoration.  Hopefully, algae will decline over time…

Although this is a little out of order, I sampled Sally Ward Spring, which flows into Wakulla Spring, the evening before I surveyed Wakulla.  It’s a pretty little spring that actually seems to harbor more fish diversity than the big spring.

sally ward headspring

A view looking across the headspring of Sally Ward Spring.

sally ward run

A view looking down the Sally Ward Spring run.


One of the vents of Sally Ward Spring.

bass in sally ward

Nice largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in Sally Ward Spring.

Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus), largemouth bass, and sunfish (Lepomis sp.) in Sally Ward Spring.

Turtles freaking out at my approach in Sally Ward Spring.

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