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Steward of Wakulla Spring

Sandy Cook, former Park Manager at Wakulla Spring State Park, shares a unique perspective on one of Florida's crown jewel state parks.

Wakulla Springs State Park is Florida's only state park with a historic lodge, 6,000 acres of swamp, river and upland habitats and one of the largest spring systems in the world. Sandy Cook, former Park Manager, recalls many of the Park's special features and efforts to protect the spring.

Cook: Wakulla Spring is unique because of its natural and cultural resources and its challenges. Most state and national parks are acquired because they're either a significant natural or cultural resource. Well, Wakulla Spring is extra special because it's a national natural landmark, which is quite a distinction. It's also on the national registry of historic places. We have 6,000 acres that we do land management on; everything from controlling exotics to prescribed fire. Plus we have nearly 200,000 people a year that visit the park, so we have a lot of recreational opportunities and interaction with the public.

Narration: The Park's main attraction is, of course, Wakulla Spring, where 250 million gallons of cool 70-degree water flows daily from a deep cave system. Protecting the quality of this water is one of Cook's chief concerns.

Cook: People have been coming to Wakulla Springs probably for 12,000 years and probably all for the same reason - an abundance of clear, cold water. Well there are a lot of reasons why we should protect it. Number one in my mind is that it's the right thing to do. We need to do the right thing to protect our resources.

Narration: Cook has seen changes in the quality of water at Wakulla Spring. Increased nitrates, a byproduct of fertilizers and wastewater treatment, and invasive plants like hydrilla challenge this fragile ecosystem.

Cook: The water quality since I've been here, for 12 years, has continued to decline. The old saying 'you can't mess with Mother Nature' is very true. If you do one thing, something is going to be out of balance somewhere else. Hydrilla was introduced. We don't know how, but in 1997 it was discovered. It had a huge impact. We think we have it under control. Now we have algae to deal with and water quality. The nitrate levels have continued to increase.

Narration: Those nitrates come from well outside the boundaries of the park. Cook stresses that protecting the Wakulla groundwater supply is everyone's responsibility.

Cook: The responsibility for protecting Wakulla Spring is not just ours. We are not completely isolated. The cave system feeding this spring, runs for many miles. It's everybody's responsibility. Wakulla Spring is publicly owned, which means that this park belongs to the people of Florida. The Springs Initiative program has brought springs awareness and water resource awareness to the table. When you hear elected officials talk now, oftentimes they are talking about water resources, and groundwater is one of those hidden things. You can't feel it, play in it and recreate in it, so springs are one of those things that people can identify with.

Narration: Cook says that local education and outreach efforts are paying off, and more and more people are embracing the message about protecting Wakulla.

Cook: People often say, 'I haven't been to Wakulla Spring for a long time, but I still understand and appreciate the fact that it needs protection.' People are very supportive of it within the county. Whether they are pro-development or pro-environment, I think everyone understands the importance of protecting a place like Wakulla Spring. One day I'll be moving on and somebody else will be coming along. I want to leave Wakulla Spring in better shape than when I got here 12 years ago.

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