Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson has paddled up the Santa Fe River into Gilchrist Blue Springs hundreds of times, but when she did it Friday, it felt completely different.
“It was absolutely the most unusual experience,” she said.
It was the first time the Fort White resident had seen the spring since the state of Florida bought the land and made it a public park. The park is about 30 miles northwest of UF.
As part of the park opening, a boardwalk that jutted out over the river was removed.
“It’s like it restored natural Florida,” Malwitz-Jipson said.
Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park celebrated its grand opening Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and free admission. The park, which had been privately owned and operated as Blue Springs Park for 60 years, has six natural springs and areas to swim, paddle, hike and camp, according to a press release.
The park will be open from 8 a.m. to sundown every day, and admission is $6 per vehicle and $4 for a single-occupant vehicle, according to the website.
Visitors can lay out on about 50 yards of white beach-like sand at the entrance of Gilchrist Blue Springs or leap off the platform over the spring.
Malwitz-Jipson said Gilchrist Blue Springs is one of her top three favorite springs in Florida. Between the spring’s biodiversity and the amount of water that flows out of it, she said the location is an unsung treasure.
“When you go there, you can’t take an ugly picture,” she said. “Every picture is just as majestic as Florida springs can possibly be.”