Blue Springs State Park near Orange City is one of several winter homes for the wonderful West Indian Manatee. Also sometimes called the “sea cow”, manatees can reach up to 13 feet in length and can weigh as much as 1300 lbs. Despite their size, manatees are quite graceful in the water, propelling themselves with their large tails, and can reach speeds up to 15 miles per hour. Manatees are mammals, so they need to breath air, but can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes at a time. They are vegetarians, and have no natural enemies, but are often wounded by the propellers of passing boats. In the 1970’s, manatees were placed on the Endangered Species List, but their population has rebounded and in 2017 they were downgraded to threatened status. They are sheer pleasure to watch, and the water of Blue Springs State Park is so clear it makes the experience even better. I enjoyed hiking to the source of the springs, which is also a scuba dive site when the manatees aren’t in for the winter. The park also offers boat tours and kayak and canoe rentals to explore the St. Johns River, but the manatee habitat is closed for the private use of the animals. Located only an hour or so from Orlando, this makes a great getaway from the crowds and noise of the amusement parks. I loved my visit to this park and happily just stood and watched the manatees for hours. I highly recommend Blue Springs State Park for anyone visiting Florida in the winter when the manatees are in their winter home.

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