FORT WHITE ‒ The rivers and springs are an integral part of life in North Central Florida. They are the life blood of communities, providing water for plants, wildlife and people. They are also an important part of the economy as Florida leads the southeast in farm income. Tourism brings over 131 million visitors to the state, with an economic impact of $98.8 billion. And North Central Florida brings many tourists to the pristine springs and rivers for camping, kayaking and cave diving.

But periodic droughts, groundwater pumping to satisfy ever increasing residential, agricultural, and industrial water demands, as well as groundwater pollution from urban and agricultural factors impact Florida's spring systems.

Our Santa Fe River (OSFR), is a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 as a grassroots educational organization to help raise awareness of the importance of the springs and aquifer. For the past 10 years the organization has sponsored the RiverFest song writing contest as a way to raise awareness of the rivers and fund projects to protect and preserve the rivers and springs. The contest is open to all songwriters, but the songs have to be original compositions about the Santa Fe River. This year there are 20 songwriters entering the contest. The top three songwriters, as chosen by a panel of judges, receive a cash prize.

The event will be held at Rum 138 in Fort White. Originally a canoe and kayak sales and rental business that offered trips down the river, Rum 138 has grown and diversified over the years, adding a stage for concerts, an art gallery, and a cafe. Rum 138 has also become the headquarters of the local Sierra Club and supporter of the OSFR.

The RiverFest event is a series of events to raise money for OSFR to fund programs, river clean ups and other events.

On Saturday March 18, 2023 the OSFR has organized a hike on the newly acquired ACT Little Awesome Springs Preserve along the Santa Fe River with guide Colette Jacono, Ph.D., a botanist and plant ecologist who has specialized in aquatic and wetland plants in Florida for over 20 years.

The following weekend on March 25, Jacono will lead another hike on the Santa Fe River through shady bottomlands protected in conservation under the Suwannee River Water Management District. The hikers will also negotiate a karst landscape, locally renowned for its unique geologic features, alligator nursery, and turkey population. Both hikes start at Rum 138, 2070 S.W. County Road 138 at 8:30 a.m. Shuttles to the hike areas will leave at 9 a.m. and cost a $25 donation to support the OSFR programs. Both hikes are limited to 25 persons. It is suggested to wear boots or hefty shoes, bring water in reusable water bottle, bug spray, and a sun hat.

Also on Saturday, March 25, from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Master Naturalist Lars Anderson will lead a guided springs paddle tour to visit the many and varied springs on the Santa Fe River from the Highway 27 boat ramp to the Hollingsworth Boat Ramp. Donation fee for this trip is $60.

On Sunday, March 26, the Riverfest song contest will be held at Rum 138 from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. with an admission fee of $10. In addition to the song contest, other music will be provided before the show by Voices Rising, a 40-member community chorus, and after the show by the Luis Ortiz Jazz Band.

Other activities include a silent auction featuring over 60 items donated by area artists, businesses, and individuals. A variety of food will be available as well as beverages from local breweries, a pop-up t-shirt printer offering this year’s RiverFest t-shirts for sale, a real live mermaid to take photos with and a 50/50 raffle.

This year’s event is dedicated to the late Rhonda Long who previously served as the Riverfest coordinator. All proceeds from the various events will go toward programs to benefit and preserve the rivers.

#     #    #

Email rcarson@