Blue Spring State Park is located in Orange City in the Central East part of Florida. Orange City is in the western part of Volusia County, which has an east coast on the Atlantic Ocean. This county is important for tourists visiting the beaches of Florida whom are also attracted to auto racing. On the western side of Volusia County, springs have been a magnet for humans and wildlife for centuries. Timucuan Indians lived at the springs long before the Spaniards arrived. In the late 1800’s, there was heavy steamboat traffic on the St. Johns River between Jacksonville and Orange City. This was the first path for settlers and visitors to Florida. The “blossoming” of Orange City was typical of the development that occurred all along the St.Johns River in the late 1800’s and early twentieth century. This early regional growth, combined with tourism, provided the economic base for the Golden Age: the steamboat set the pace and style of the era. The “Thursby family” built a landing to receive these travelers. But, this golden age declined as visitors streaming to Florida headed south with the railroad that considerably cut traveling time and extended the travel distances possible in Florida.
Now, the spring is much more than a scenic wonder for swimming, canoeing, hiking and birding. Blue Spring is well known as a winter home for Florida’s endangered manatee. One can view these mammals each winter between November and March. Blue Spring is one of only three areas in Florida in which a manatee may be “adopted” (i.e., others are at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and Tampa Bay). In 1972, the State of Florida purchased Blue Spring as a state park and manatee refuge. For certified cave divers, the spring provides an underwater adventure as another form of recreation. A limited number of fully equipped family cabins are located in the park. The spring maintains a year-around temperature of 72 degrees. However, Blue Spring and its recreational opportunities critically depend on the maintenance of the environment surrounding the area. This aspect will be briefly considered next.
Natural Resource Protection
Historically, many had said that Blue Spring “boils up with great force”. However, dropping water levels in the aquifer have resulted in reduced water flow to Blue Spring. The amount of water discharging from the spring has been declining since the mid-1980’s. The flow reduction threatens the future of Blue Spring as a manatee refuge and recreation area. Blue Spring’s water comes from the same Floridian aquifer as our drinking water. Thus, suburban development within the Blue Spring Basin means more water is being pumped from the aquifer for household and commercial use. That is, increased water use means lower aquifer levels and reduced flow to the Blue Spring. This may produce manatee crowding and possibly death for this creature.
In addition, Blue Spring’s water now carries about 87 tons of nitrates per year according the Florida DEP (2002). This increases the growth of algae and leads to ecological decline. Nitrates and other nutrients come from fertilizer and human waste. Nutrients and other pollutants are picked up by storm water as it flows over lawns, gardens, pastures, agricultural fields, and golf courses. Polluted storm water can flow into sinkholes or work it way through the soil to reach the aquifer. The survival of the delicate spring ecosystem requires good water quality and sufficient water quantity. Recreational visitors to Blue Spring will also be deterred from a diminished water quality via its appearance, adverse impact on the ecosystem and deterrence of manatees from the springs area. A boardwalk and observation deck was built in 1974 to protect the shoreline while allowing visitors to view the manatees and the spring. On the positive side, a record 153 manatees took refuge in the warm spring water in 2001
To protect the environment, water consumption can be reduced; septic tanks can be better constructed and maintained; fertilizer and pesticides can be limited; and the St. John’s River Water Management District should be encouraged to protect and restore the flow of Blue Spring Basin that covers 130 square miles in Volusia County.
Annual Trend and Seasonal Use of Blue Spring State Park
In fiscal year 1992, a little over 360 thousand people visited Blue Spring State Park. However, by the fiscal year 2002, slightly more than 337 thousand people visited this park indicating a 6.4% decline in attendance over the last 11 years. In Figure 5.1. annual park attendance data are plotted over this time period to calculate the annual trend in people attending the park combined with the year to year fluctuations in park attendance. The straight line through the attendance data indicates the annual trend in park attendance where the trend equation (i.e., BLUEATT) is given in the lower right hand corner of Figure 5.1. All attendance data were obtained from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (unpublished, 2002).
The trend equation for Blue Spring State Park attendance shown in Figure 5.1 indicates no annual growth in people attending the park. There is virtually no trend in park attendance. That is, there is really no correlation between park attendance and time.
The RSQ measures how much the passage of time explains park attendance. Further, the attendance trend appears to be headed downward or static in nature. With population growth in the region and increasing tourism in the area over the last 11 years, it would be reasonable to conclude that the trend would be upward for Blue Spring State Park. But, this is clearly not the case. We have pointed out that there are many environmental problems associated with Blue Spring. Nitrates continue to create water quality problems while falling water levels threaten the manatee populations. Further, official are at a loss to explain the obvious flat behavior of park attendance over the last 11 years. The explanation for this finding is beyond the scope of this study, but it is consistent with the economic model which asserts that increasing environmental problems are related to a decline in economic activity as measured by park attendance. As in other chapters, there are considerable cyclical fluctuations in park attendance over the 1992-2002 period. In fact, there appears to be a downward trend in attendance from 1992 to 1997 while there appears to be an upward trend from 1997 to the year 2002. The fall off in attendance from 2001 to 2002 may be due to the terrorist events on September 11, 2001, combined with the poor performance of the U.S. economy. Cycles are usually created by oscillations in economic activity such as expansion in consumer spending or a drop in business spending or a combination of both. It is important to know the cyclical attendance in park attendance due to a need for proper facility planning such as hiring part-time workers, etc. Clearly, we have pointed out a problem at Blue Spring, and can offer a working hypothesis between environmental quality and economic activity.
Seasonal use of a park refers to the month-to-month variation in attendance. Seasonal variation may be due to the nature of the resource and/or man-made events that influence demand for goods and services such as a water resource (e.g., cold versus warm water). We obtained monthly data on Blue Spring State Park from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This was analyzed from 1992-2002 for Blue Spring. The analysis was done by assuming that no seasonal variation during a year would dictate 1/12 of annual demand (i.e., attendance). Deviations from the 1/12 in any month would identify a seasonal pattern. A detailed example of the calculation of a seasonal index can be read in Chapter 2 dealing with Ichetucknee Springs. For Blue Spring, the seasonal index in attendance is plotted in Figure 5.2. One should remember before we review the results that Blue Spring is close to Orlando and provides a haven for visitors to Florida not only for its beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, but NASCAR racing in Daytona. In addition, those seeking to view the manatees should remember that this animal migrates to warmer waters in Blue Spring during the winter months. According to Figure 5.2, the peak seasonal attendance at Blue Springs is December through March of each year. After that period, one other seasonal peak was identified in July. The rest of the months of the year exhibit seasonal “lows”. The influx of tourists to the general area coupled with the seasonal peak in the flow of the manatees as they herd down the St. Johns River to Orange City or Blue Spring as an attractant to visitors may explain the seasonal pattern observed in Figure 5.2. The reader can read the index in the following manner. For example, in January of each year, attendance shows an index of 193.9. This means that attendance for January is 93.9%, higher or almost doubled the number of visitors if there were no seasonal peak (i.e., no seasonal peak would be a January attendance which is 1/12 of annual attendance).