When you think of Florida, you probably imagine the big mouse, beaches, more beaches, and...beaches.
But one of Florida's best kept secrets lurks in the northern, middle section of the state, in a humble town where two of my grandparents grew up: Dunnellon, Florida. Here is the home to Rainbow River, one of my most favorite places in the United States.
Outside of the Rainbow Springs State Park, there are two main grocery stores, one Walmart, and a few gas stations to choose from. Downtown houses a scattering of locally owned shops to stroll through. Seasonally, there are some wonderful fresh produce market tents that have everything from tomatoes to mangos.
If you are a cyclist, you will find several beautiful trails to take a ride on. If you are a fisher-person, you will have no trouble finding a spot to throw a line. As for food already caught & cooked: much of the restaurant scene is made of familiar franchises, but The Blue Gator, Swampy's, and The Front Porch are some local favorites. You MUST get a slice of pie at the Front Porch, or your experience here simply isn't complete.
Inside the state park, you will find crystal clear water that stays a steady temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit, year round. That means in the dead of summer, it feels like an icy heaven when you dive in, While at the other end of the year, a lukewarm bath to wash the woes of Florida winters away.
It is home to a list of creatures both admired, and feared; beautiful native & invasive plant species; and the ambiance of pure paradise. There is no shortage of adventure here. Whether you want to take your time & float downstream via tube, kayak or paddle board against the current, scuba dive towards the springs that feed the river, or take a pontoon at idle speed towards the Withlacoochee - your sense of wander & wonder will be fulfilled here.
My paternal grandparents grew up & met each other in Dunnellon, Florida; half of my heritage is owed to this small, sweet, little town. They said their vows in Dunnellon, and return as snow birds each season, retreating to their gorgeous, white-stilted home with a wrap around porch overlooking the river. Where you can watch the rain fall, the birds fly, the water run...
Being their granddaughter affords me the luxury of intimately knowing this river - a luxury that will never go unrecognized. I've made precious memories here with my own family, my fiancé, and his family. From solo kayak excursions to aimless floating - my heart often yearns for these crystalline waters.
I've battled with the idea of sharing this place so publicly. Not out of greed, but preservation. The Rainbow River is gaining popularity, and what follows is an increase in tourism. Being a tourist myself, I cannot argue with people who desire the river. But I do stand by sustainability. As unfortunate a fact as it may be - people are destructive & often inconsiderate of the habitats they visit. Pollution, litter, invasive species, over fishing, noise & light pollution, species relocation - it all happens here.
And simply for the fulfillment of human activity. This isn't news though - this is the headline of the century: Human's are hurting the planet. I'm not interested in a debate about proven facts - I am only interested in preserving what we can, now that we know them. While there is a world of things in need of protection, this river is near to my heart, so naturally, I am an avid advocate for its protection.
So to anyone wishing to wade these waters,
p l e a s e... Don't Be An Asshole.
Read & abide by these laws, leave no trace, make your memories, and spread the word so others - both human and non-human - may enjoy this paradise for centuries to come.
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* All photos were taken by Chelsea Rose from 2012-2018 via iPhone and/or Canon.