You do not need a boat to have fun this summer: Rock Bluff Springs is now open for all.
More than 50 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning to celebrate the grand opening of J.H. Anderson, Jr. Memorial Park, located alongside the Suwannee River in Bell, which now provides land access to Rock Bluff Springs. Previously, the springs could only be reached by boat.
The park is located across from Rock Bluff General Store on 6519 County Road 340. It is open every day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with an entrance fee of $4 per car.
The Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT), based in Gainesville, partnered with the Suwannee River Water Management District (District) to manage and maintain the 175-acre park, creating designated areas for guests to swim and hike in without crossing paths with boats.
Hugh Thomas, executive director of the District, said the organization acquired the land in 2017 from the family of Joe H. Anderson, Jr., who hoped to protect Rock Bluff Springs and increase recreational activities for locals. The park was named in his honor.
Janet Tucker, a local Bell resident, said she is looking forward to the newly designated barrier the ACT made, separating swimmers and boats.
“Boats use[d] to pull up and take over the whole area, and there was no place for you to go, but now that is going to change,” she said.
The previously limited access to the local attraction used to upset Tucker, like most local Bell residents who attended the ceremony.
“I did not want to go in [the springs] anymore because I did not want the gasoline from the boat motor,” Tucker said. “At least now it’s on the other side so you got a place with no gasoline getting on the plants or water.”
Tom Kay, ACT’s executive director, said opening land access to the park gives more people the opportunity to hike and swim. The ACT plans to add walking trails in the near future. However, to prevent environmental damage from large crowds, additional amenities, such as kayak rentals, will not be offered.
The ACT has protected natural and recreational resources around Alachua County for more than 30 years, Kay said. With this new park, both ACT and the District hope to not only protect the land, but make it an educational site where guests can learn about the importance of Florida springs.
“[The] educational component of the park will include additional signage and interpretation so people can understand the habitat in the springs and so people are aware in ways that they can protect the beautiful resources,” Kay said.
Eric Draper, director of Florida State Parks, mentioned the importance of water management districts, such as the Suwannee River Water Management District, in protecting springs like Rock Bluff during a speech given at the ceremony.
“Suwannee River Management District has always had a great reputation for managing land well and making sure it is available for the public,” Draper said.
About $16 million from taxes has been invested in the Suwannee River to protect its local agriculture and tourist-attracting springs.
“It is exciting to see other organizations protect not just the springs, but the land around the springs,” Draper said.