We just returned from a week-long camping trip in White Springs at the Stephen Foster Culture and Folk Center. The destination is 2 hours and change north of Brooksville. We try to get out somewhere within the state park system about once a month. You never know what to expect this year. The park museum and gift shop are closed due to Covid and the bells in the carillon are not playing. But if you look there are still some things to enjoy. I took many hikes in the woods on the Florida Trail and other trails in the state park and discovered something I didn’t know existed—wild azaleas.
Apparently wild azaleas are quite common in wooded areas in the south, especially near swampy land. The bushes can grow up to 8 to 10 feet tall and produce beautiful pink/white flower clusters that open up much like a trumpet. Old-timers call them wild honeysuckle. They bloom in spring about the same time as our household azaleas. From my observation, they bloom a bit later and last longer. The pine forests provide just the right amount of sun and shade and the decaying leaves give them the right nutrients in the soil. They look especially impressive when you come across a bush that is all blooms and almost no leaves. I came across many wild azaleas along the trail. The bushes have a light, sweet fragrance.
I did not know that the park at Stephen Foster has celebrated their blooms with an annual Wild Azalea Festival held on the 3rd Saturday in March. Last year’s event was canceled. This year’s event became a 5K Run/Walk. However, in the past, there had been huge celebrations with food, crafts, a Little Miss Azalea contest, and the Suwannee River Duck Race. If your rubber duck finished first under the White Springs Bridge you would win a kayak! Not a bad deal. There were also wild azalea plants for sale. Since I am a plant lover I will look up how to buy some.
White Springs, Fla. remains much as I remember it from a visit two years ago. It’s a very quiet town almost equal distance from the larger towns of Lake City (15 miles) or Live Oak (13 miles). The bathhouse stands as a reminder of the bygone days of the 1900’s health spas and the healing properties of magic spring water. I see they have put in all new decking since the floods a few years ago covered the second floor. In the center of town are an old building and a general store. It was Adams Country Store but has changed owners. You see the landmark right away as you turn by the one and only flashing traffic light. Suwannee Hardware and Feed is the new tenant of the 1893 building and they fit it perfectly. They were already well established in the town and only had to move from a few blocks away. Bins of merchandise fill the inside wooden floors and chickens and vegetable plants are for sale outside. Meanwhile, the Stephen Foster state park hopes to resume its annual Christmas celebration this year with all the lights and decorations. It will be a welcome sight as we recover from a very dark 2020.