By Erika Webb
Visitors to the park noted the fireflies looked like Christmas lights, an enchanting interlude in spring.
That's the kind of response Blue Spring State Park Manager Jerry Garrett is after as he settles into his new position there.
Mr. Garrett has been employed with Florida State Parks since 2010, six years after retiring from Hillsboro County Parks and Recreation.
He worked at Oscar Scherer State Park in Sarasota before being promoted to overseer of the park with the largest spring on the St. Johns River.
High visitation and abundant activities in and around the park satisfy Mr. Garrett's need to stay busy and moving forward.
"Any park you go to as a manager, you want to assess what you've got there and you want to focus on improvements," Mr. Garrett said. "We're improving the focus on visitor service."
Over the past five years visitor numbers have risen from around 470,000 to 525,000 annually, he explained.
"This is one of the best manatee viewing places in the world, he said, and visitors come from all over the world to see them."
In his seven-month tenure, he's met people from Germany, France, Switzerland and Japan, to name a few.
In order to better welcome the growing numbers of attendees, the boardwalks meandering through the park will be widened.
"That will accommodate more people ... not have to have so many folks beside them, which will make it easier to view the manatee," he said.
Interpretive programs are designed to attract, engage and educate visitors, like the one the park hosted in April to celebrate firefly season.
Yes, Mr. Garrett confirmed, there is an actual season for fireflies.
For about the first three weeks in April, the twinkling winged wonders light the woods and walkways delighting park guests.
Since the park closes at sunset, it is usually only those staying in the cabins or camping who get to see the nightlight show, but during firefly season passes are issued to allow visitors to stay an hour after sundown.
"The firefly walk was created to get information (to the public) about fireflies' habitat, species details and to help them understand why the fireflies are there," Mr. Garrett said. "It's a neat thing to see, just to observe, a unique experience."
Heightened awareness of natural resources is the No. 1 priority and the reason for interpretive programs, the manatee cams and using the park as a host site for forums like a recent one by the St. Johns River Water Management.
The overall health of the spring is the central theme.
Decades have delivered the decline of one of Florida's most valued natural resources and time is not on conservation's side. It's taking a statewide village.
"We appreciate the agencies out there and groups like Blue Spring Alliance, FWC, St. Johns and others, groups working for the same thing, the quality of the spring," Mr. Garrett said. "It takes effort from everyone and the overall message is conserve water and letting people know that doing whatever they can do to do their part helps preserve these resources."
Events like the First Day Trail Hike on Jan. 1 and the first Blue Spring State Park 5K in February are part of the nationwide initiative to get people outdoors and exploring state and national parks.
Offering community outreach and education while promoting protection and garnering support for the parks, many of which didn't fare well during the recession, comprises the to-do list of Blue Spring and other parks these days.
At $6 for a carload of eight, parking is still one of the most economical ways to spend a day in swimmers' paradise with plenty of picnic space, Mr. Garrett said.
"Part of the mission here is, we want to invite folks out to resource-based recreation," he explained. "My continued message is we are trying to make a good effort to support our community. It's very important to have those good relationships with folks and to continue to make them feel good about coming out here to Blue Spring."
For a list of upcoming park events visit, floridastateparks.org/bluespring/events.