ALEXANDER SPRINGS STATE RECREATION AREA, FL — You won’t be the first to discover the delightful swimming hole at Alexander Springs. People have been enjoying this idyllic and refreshing spring form at least 10,000 years. Its ancient residents, the Timucuan Indians, enjoyed the springs for the same reason people go today: “It was a place where they would go swimming and recreate,” said ranger Jim Thorsen.
Alexander is one of Florida’s 27 “first-magnitude” springs, each of which produce mor than 64.6 million gallons of water a day. (Nearby Silver Glen Springs is another, along with Manatee Springs near Chiefland.) Alexander Springs (ranked 23rd) discharges 80 million gallons a day, according to Thorsen.
Archaeologists have discovered numerous artifacts near the springs, including pottery, bows, even an ancient stew. Its ingredients included fresh water snails, mussels, gar fish, catfish, speckled perch, largemouth bass, turtle, bird, white-tailed deer and palmetto berries.
Today the picnic area is on the site of a “shell mitten,” Thorsen said. “It’s a large mound of shells and crayfish. That was the diet of the Timucuan Indians.”
How Alexander Springs got its name is a mystery. “Nobody really knows the answer,” Thorsen said. “It was probably named after a person when the forest was created in 1908.”
The nearby Billies Bay Wilderness, however, “was named after a person who was half Seminole Indian and half caucasian,” Thorsen said. “He used to be a renegade who went in there to hide. His name was Billy Bowleg something.”
Alexander’s 1-mile Timucuan Nature Trail loops through four distinct environments common to Ocala National Forest: aquatic, swamp, Oak Hammock and Sand Pine Scrub. Along the way, informational signs describe the plants as they were used by Timucuan Indians. Much of the trail is on elevated boardwalks, and two observation platforms offer fishing and a good view of Alexander Creek.
The large swimming area feels more natural than the developed site at Juniper Springs. There’s more water, too. Juniper Springs discharges only a fourth the amount of water as Alexander Springs. The 28-foot pool at the head of the spring is a favorite spot for scuba divers.
Alexander Springs Recreation Area Info:
From Ocala, take Highway 40 to Astor Park, then take Highway 445 south for five and a half miles. Canoes can be rented for a 7-mile run along Alexander Creek or for as little as two hours. No return trip is currently offered. Canoes (but not kayaks) can be rented for 2 hours ($16), 4 hours ($24) or all day ($38.)
The 67-unit campground, accessible to the handicapped, is open year-round. Campsites cost $21, with a limit of 5 people per site. The park is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, except for overnight campers. Features: Camping, picnicking, hiking, swimming, scuba diving, canoeing and kayaking. Contact: (352) 669-3522