Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Rainbow River

There's a lot to love about autumn. Cooling temps, colorful foliage, migrating birds, and fall flowers are high on the list. But for Florida paddlers, one of the greatest gifts of the season is the opportunity to visit some of the beautiful spring rivers that are overrun by the squealing hordes in warmer months. Rainbow River, which we'll be paddling on November 17 and again several times in the coming months, is a prime example. 

There's no blue like a spring
The water of Rainbow Spring and much of the river seems more clear and blue than most--largely because the wide open canopy allows plenty of sunshine to illuminate the white sand bottom. Drifting over this water is like being on a living aquarium. Mullet, bass, bream, garfish, bowfins and gangs of smaller fish along with snails, turtles and other reptiles can be seen working through gently undulating meadows of water celery and Sagittaria. There are also many waterbirds (including unusually large numbers of cormorants and wood ducks). Several extended families of river otters make this one of North Florida's best rivers to see these amazing mammals. Houses line much of the west side this river, but they aren't too distracting.

A Rainbow River moment
River Lore

For well over a century, as adventurers and nature lovers beat a path to the shores of Silver Spring, her sister spring, the Rainbow went relatively unnoticed. A surprising fact when you consider that it's Florida's second largest spring, gushing an average of 763 cubic feet per second. Maybe it's the name. The Indians called it Wekiwa, which means, simply, "the spring of water." This seemingly uninspired name was as common in the lexicon of Florida's natives as the name Blue Springs is today. When white settlers displaced the Indians, they changed the springs name to... you guessed it, Blue Spring.

Phosphate mine near Dunnellon
In 1890, when the area became ground zero for Florida's huge phosphate boom, a health resort with a large hotel was built on the high slope overlooking the spring basin. Among other things, the resort offered boat rentals and passenger steamboat service to Dunnellon, a few miles downstream. It wasn't until 1937 that the springs promoters, feeling the need to give this beautiful spring an identity of it's own, renamed it Rainbow. But, the change didn't come easy. Even today, you'll still find many locals who call the river Blue Run.

In 1950, the hotel was destroyed by fire. Ten years later, the spring caught the attention of two mega-corporations, namely S & H Greenstamps and Holiday Inn, who bought 55 acres around the head spring. The hotel was rebuilt and the property was developed into a full scale tourist attraction, complete with river boat rides and log rafts. They even offered river tours in a small, air conditioned submarine! The park closed in 1974, and after sitting idle for 15 years, was bought by the state.
Green heron - a favorite bird of many paddlers
Rainbow Springs State Park opened in 1995. High, dry banks along most of the river bank, have allowed property owners to build homes close to the water. But, with it's exceptionally clear, blue waters and lots of birds and other wildlife, the Rainbow is still a beautiful paddle. 


 The first hour of this trip is a round trip paddle up to the spring head and back. The upstream paddle here is against a moderate current - not quite as strong as Silver, but close. Aside from that, this river's a breeze. It's plenty wide and the curves are long and easy.

That's how you shoot a wood duck!

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