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Keeping a River Tradition Alive

Park Ranger Don Gavin follows in the footsteps of his relatives and helps keep a rich tradition of storytelling alive on the Wakulla River.

One of the earliest traditions that attracted people to Wakulla Spring was the opportunity to take a boat tour to see the abundant Florida wildlife, or to get a glimpse of mastodon bones in Wakulla's deep spring basin.

Audio Feature Transcript

Gavin: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I'd like to welcome you to Wakulla Springs State Park. Out here on our riverboat cruise we'll have a three-mile round trip on the Wakulla River. You're going to see a whole lot of wildlife, birds and turtles, and we'll find you some of those old Florida gators. This is all part of the Wakulla River. Wakulla is an Indian word that means strange land and mysterious waters. We all know where this water's going but we haven't learned yet where it has all come from.

Narration: Today Park Ranger Don Gavin helps keep that tradition alive - a tradition that began with several of his relatives giving boat tours in the early 1900s.

Gavin: I was first introduced to employment at Wakulla Spring when I was a teenager back in the 1960s. I was working here on the yard doing different odd jobs. That's what sparked my interest in driving the boats. My first occupation as a boat driver was when I was a teenager, and I was one of the younger drivers. At the time - I guess I can say it now - I lied about my age in order to drive the boats. I told the manager that I was 18 when in reality I was only 16 years old.

Narration: Part of Don's job has included keeping certain storytelling traditions alive, including one started by his cousin Tom Gavin called 'The Tale of Henry the Pole Vaulting Fish.'

Gavin: He got the fish to come up to the pole. And once he came up to the pole he'd do a little performance act going across the pole. We started calling him Henry and then Tom started making a little song pertaining to Henry where he would say, 'All right Henry meet us at the pole. Wake up boy because you hear me calling.' That was part of the song with the lyrics, and the way we kind of started tours here in the old days at Wakulla Spring.

Narration: Each year, tens of thousands of visitors to Wakulla Springs State Park head down the river to view Florida wildlife in one of the most unique, protected sanctuaries in the state.

Gavin: I tell everyone that one of the more interesting things about the place is there are no two tours alike. Everything is a little different because this is wildlife, and we have no control over what may be in the area at any given time. It always sparks our interest to take the tour, as well as give the tour.

Narration: Part of Gavin's goal is to make sure that visitors understand they've come to a special place.

Gavin: For visitors who come to Wakulla Spring, upon departing, I want them to leave with a sense that they have enjoyed themselves, they have learned something and they have come to a part of the Earth; that with all of the commercial building and developments this tranquility still exists. I want them to realize that we are here to save this for them so they can have this when they come back.

Narration: When they do come back, the rich tradition of Don's storytelling will likely be the same, but the experience will be as fresh as the first time.

Gavin: That's a real live Florida alligator - untamed and un-stuffed. They are very much alive. This isn't Disney World. Everything down here is for real. Down here you folks get the real deal. You won't find Mickey Mouse. This here is the real Florida.

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