Merritt’s Mill Pond is fed by a handful of springs. Its water feeds the Apalachicola watershed and its caves are a draw to divers from around the world.
Chuck Hatcher is the Director of Jackson County’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re at Blue Springs Recreational area on Merritt’s Mill Pond. Blue Springs Recreational Area is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, seven days a week. We average about 30,000 people a summer through 85-88 days, and it’s a great opportunity for people to enjoy the spring. Crystal clear. 68-degree water. Beautiful.” Summer is over and Blue Springs is closed to everyone but divers.
Merritt’s Mill Pond feeds Spring Creek, which joins up with the main tributary of the Apalachicola River, the Chipola.
Fog hovers gently over the river as paddlers begin their journey on the 9 mile paddling trail. It’s 4 ½ miles down one side and 4 ½ miles back.
“This is one of the vents to Shangri-la Spring, and that’s the main entrance right there,” Chuck Hatcher points out from his kayak. “It’s a cave diving destination. It’s a side mount only – very narrow passage. There’s, I think, seven different springs that feed Merritt’s Mill Pond. We have Shangri-la Spring, Twin Cave Springs… so a number of springs on the waterway.”
Jackson County is known for caves. Jackson Blue is the largest – a first magnitude spring running about 120 million gallons a day. It draws people from all over the world, with people from 28 different countries and from all 50 states coming to dive last year.
There are a lot of eco-tourism sites in Jackson County: nature trails, boardwalks, Merritt’s Mill Pond, the Chipola River, Spring Creek. And the Upper Chipola Paddling Trail.
Chuck Hatcher says, “We just have many, many places here in Jackson County for the nature lover. I’m 54. I’ve been here all my life, and grew up on Merritt’s Mill Pond right. I just love it. And that’s the reason I’m here, doing the job I’m doing.”
CHECK OUT THE WFSU ECOLOGY BLOG FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PADDLING AND CAVE DIVING IN JACKSON COUNTY.