Ginnie Springs

Ginnie Springs

A popular local attraction is closing its doors after Florida residents were ordered to stay home.

Ginnie Springs, a park in Gilchrist County which offers camping and water activities like tubing and snorkeling, closed for the month of April following a 30-day stay-at-home order from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county did not have a stay-at-home order until DeSantis announced the state’s order. The park announced the closing April 1 in a Facebook post.

April reservations will be fully refunded and those who made reservations will be contacted by the park through phone or email, the post read. Reservations were only available for water and electric campsites, and costs range by site type and time of year, according to Ginnie Springs’ website.

Ginnie Springs did not respond to emails asking about its closure, and calls to the park’s phone number are answered by an automated message that instructs callers to contact them via email.

Laura Vesga, 49, owns a vacation house in Gilchrist County less than a mile from Ginnie Springs. Her son and daughter are UF freshmen, and the Miami-Dade County school principal said she is staying with them there now that classes have moved online. She said campers were taking advantage of a discrepancy in Alachua County’s stay-at-home order before Gov. DeSantis mandated the policy across the state. 

When Gilchrist County was not under the same restrictions, she said it served as a loophole that allowed people to crowd Ginnie Springs.

“It’s packed, and I can tell you it’s not with our residents,” she said before the park’s closing.

Vesga became concerned when she went looking for her lost white American bulldog mix, Mr. Mo, who is still missing in Gilchrist County. She said she entered the park about a week ago to search for him and noticed a lot of traffic. 

She went in after paying her fees and said she noticed many people camping, swimming and using the facilities as normal but were more than six feet apart.

Vesga said people from the park had also been trickling into the community. A gas station five miles away from Ginnie Springs was filled with groups of people wearing swim trunks and tubes while drinking beer, and Vesga said it was a recipe for disaster.

She said she also knows people who rented out land for kids to set up tents, and said they had been busy recently. Vesga said the stay-at-home order and park’s closing will not affect the population drastically but will prevent visitors from trickling in. 

“The way things are right now, with so much that’s unknown about the virus, I think it’s best to be prudent,” she said.

The park did take some precautions leading up to its closing, said Heidi Lowe, a 39-year-old St. Petersburg resident. Lowe said she visited Ginnie Springs with her family from March 19 to March 23, before it shut down. 

Lowe has been going there twice a year for around five years, and she said people were not near each other like they had been in the past. Trash pick-up was also managed well and the bathrooms were clean, she said.

When they left a few days later, Lowe said she saw the beginning of the park shifting its operations, with only a couple people allowed in its stores at a time, and check-ins are done from people’s cars. 

She said she didn’t know if this distance was a function of Ginnie Springs as much as it was people being responsible and keeping their distance from each other, but appreciated how things were handled.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” she said. 

Contact AJ Bafer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ajbafer.