A long-neglected spring right in the heart of Gainesville

Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 at 11:45 p.m.

Can FROGS free Glen Springs?

Gainesville's only artesian spring is unquestionably in need of liberation. Once a free-flowing branch of Hogtown Creek, it has been imprisoned in concrete for decades; trapped to feed a community swimming pool that long ago fell into disuse.

Now it sits neglected and forlorn behind the Elks Club, on Glen Springs Road next to Ring Park, its flow greatly reduced and its still clear water tainted by septic tank leakage.

"Many residents of Gainesville visit local springs such as Ichetucknee, Poe and Ginny. However, most Gainesville residents have no knowledge that there is a spring in the heart of Gainesville," says a Glen Springs Restoration plan posted on the website of the Howard T. Odum Springs Institute. "Clearly there is a need to rejuvenate Glen Springs to a restored natural and cultural resource that Gainesville can once again be proud of."

But there's the rub. While awareness of the plight of Glen Springs has been slowly growing, there seems to be little traction to acquire and restore this lost natural treasure. Glen Springs does not appear on the city's land acquisition list nor is it included in Gainesville's ambitious 20-year, $56 million Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

On the other hand, Elks officials seem willing to part with the springs; for that matter, with the entire 4-plus acres of creekside land that the fraternal organization occupies.

Any such deal, however, would need to involve sufficient funding to enable the Elks relocate to another site.

"We would like to feel as though we are whole and in another position in our community," says Bob Franks, president of the Elks-affiliated corporation that owns the land. "I don't know what that number is."

Enter FROGS.

At this point, FRiends Of Glen Springs — so dubbed by local businessman and founder Jeff Montgomery — is still in its tadpole stage. The group had its first meeting last Tuesday, and participants discussed the possibility of seeking nonprofit corporation status to advocate for turning Glen Springs into a nature park.

Of the 20 people who attended, many are Gainesville Rotarians. That's not surprising, because Springs Institute Director Robert Knight, in his efforts to draw attention to Glen Springs, has been making the rounds of the Rotary clubs. And it turns out that clean water is one of the causes embraced by Rotary International.

"Rotary is involved in water restoration projects all over the world," said Grace Horvath, incoming president of Rotary Clubs of Gainesville. "For us to be involved with water here is a no-brainer."

If Rotarians do get behind restoration, it could add momentum to the project. Rotary clubs have helped raise funding and support for local projects like Jonesville Park, the PACE Center for Girls and the Southwest Advocacy Group Center.

It is also clear that many of the participants would like the City Commission to accept Nathan Collier's offer of $1 million to purchase five acres of city conservation land behind Collier's home off Northwest 8th Avenue. That offer has been the subject of some controversy among residents who resist the idea of the selling public conservation lands under any circumstances. And while negotiations with Collier continue, commissioners have been reluctant to link his proposal to Glen Springs.

"It's the elephant in the room," Bob Palmer said at the FROGS meeting. "It needs to be linked."

Whether that linkage occurs or not, it's clear that getting traction for restoration of Gainesville's long-neglected spring will require a sustained effort and not a little bit of funding.

Mitch Glaeser, chairman of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, compared the effort to the rescue of Devil's Millhopper, once a much-abused hole in the ground until it that large sinkhole off Millhopper Road was turned into a state park. "It's a public asset," he said, and business and civic leaders need to "partner up" with the city to save it.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

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