People often ask me about the history of Merritt’s Mill Pond. When I first moved here I didn’t know too much about it other than some of the obvious information. The 270-acre, 10-12 foot deep pond is located in Marianna, FL. The head spring is called Blue Spring by the locals, Jackson Blue by cave divers. There are 7 other springs along the 4.25 mile stretch from the head spring to the current dam that most people are commonly aware of, the most recent being found around 2005. The springs most often visited in addition to Jackson Blue are Twin and Hole in the Wall caves, mainly because they are the only springs on the pond that can be accessed in backmount configuration. The other springs on the pond are Shangri-La, Indian Washtub, Hidey Hole, Lamar’s Landing, and Gator Hole. These are names known to cave divers and may be known to locals by other names. The latter 5 springs mentions have sidemount or no mount entrances, and at times cannot be accessed due to sand slides in the entrance due to lack of water flow.
Blue Spring is a first magnitude spring, which means it discharges more than 100 cubic feet per second or about 650,000 gallons a day. Average discharge based on available records is 126 cubic feet per second. Discharge has been measured at over 125 million gallons a day in the past. In times of drought, the spring is known to still discharge about 10 million gallons a day. Most of the other springs are what cave divers consider low flow systems. At times, Hole in the Wall is even known to siphon.
The average water temperature in the springs is 68 degrees year round. The water around the Blue Spring basin tends to stay this temperature year round as well because of the amount of water being discharged every day. The temperature of the pond fluctuates throughout the year from about 51 degrees in the winter to 88 degrees in the summer. During most winters the water temperature in Hole in the Wall and Twin will drop slightly. The water temperature in Hole in the Wall has been recorded as low as 56 degrees and in Twin as low as 65 degrees.
The water discharging from Blue Spring is believed to have been under ground for about 17 years. So the chemical composition of the discharge water is a result of rain falls and seepage from 17 years ago. The state has seen an increase in nitrates in the discharge water. This is due to the large focus on agriculture in Jackson County. What we’re seeing in this is what agriculture was doing almost 2 decades ago. Rain falls and seepage today will not be seen for another 17 years. This makes it extremely important to protect our ground water today because we will not see the effects of what we dump on the ground for another 2 decades.
Merritt’s Mill Pond flows into Spring creek, which starts just south of the dam on Hwy 90. Spring Creek continues for another 2.5 miles before it joins the Chipola River. The pond has existed in its current length since about 1866 when a dam was built at the present site. A year or two later the dam was sold and enlarged, creating the size of the pond as we see it today. The first dam was built at Blue Spring during the 1830s. It was too close to the spring and didn’t allow for the wheel to turn (it was a grist mill) so it was taken down. In the 1840s, a second dam was built about 2.5 miles down from the head spring. When the final location of the dam was established in 1866, there was a lawsuit by the owner of the existing dam because the new level of the pond stopped his mill from working. Even before the first dam was built, the creek that ran from Blue Spring to the Chipola River was large enough that the native Americans that lived in the area could travel on it by canoe.
Over it’s history, Merritt’s Mill Pond has been drawn down 6 times. The first draw down was in 1956, then in 1971-72, then 1980, 1990, 1994-96, and the current draw down of 2012. The draw down in the 1990s was done to make some modifications to the dam. All other draw downs occurred to try to improve the health of the pond.
Today, Merritt’s Mill Pond is very popular for cave diving, fishing, and general recreational aquatic activities. The Blue Spring Recreational Area park has been know to have several hundred people present on hot summer days. The park operates 7 days a week during the summer months with Memorial Day Weekend as its first weekend being open to the public and Labor Day weekend as its last weekend being open to the public. Hours are from 10-6 Monday through Saturday and 11-5 on Sundays. The county provide lifeguards and a concession stand during those hours. The pond is very busy most summer days with several pontoons, fishing boats, and personal water crafts running up and down the pond. During colder months you can still find the dedicated person out there fishing as the pond is known for record catches.
Cave diving is popular on the pond year round. Up until 2008 cave diving was restricted at Blue Spring during the hours it was open to the public in the summer. The county lifted that rule and opened the park to cave divers 24/7. In 2010 they placed key pad on the gate so visitors just have to enter the key code to open the gate. Access is $25 per day or $150 per year. Or you can access the spring, as well as the other 7 springs by boat by using one of the boat launches along the pond.
The pond has 3 boat launches along its length. Baptism Launch is the one closest to the head spring and is located at the end of Day Loop Rd, just before the entrance to Blue Spring park. Baptism Launch is a primitive launch and does not allow for launching trailered boats. Hunter Fish Camp Launch is located about 3 miles south of Baptism Launch, right across from Gator Hole. It is a paved launch. Be careful though! When the water level is about a foot low your motor prop will hit the bottom so keep it up. The third launch is located at Arrowhead Campground which is right at the dam. There’s a small fee to launch a boat from this ramp.
If you’re interested in taking a tour of the pond or doing some guided cave dives contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 850-594-7991. We have a 16 foot wide jon boat that will get us around the pond quite easily.