By BRUCE RITCHIE
Graphic designer Rick Kilby of Orlando visited Florida’s springs while growing up in Gainesville in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
But he says his study of them began a few years ago with a historic roadside attraction in St. Augustine — the kind of “tourist traps” he says most Floridians avoid.
Kilby is author of “Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de Leon and Florida’s Magical Waters,” released in May by the University Press of Florida.
As a member of the Society for Commercial Archeology, which is devoted to saving buildings, artifacts, structures, signs and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape, Kilby said he started to realize that the places that Florida residents think of as tourist traps have historic value and are a snapshot of the past.
Kilby and his wife and family visited the Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park with its mannequins in 16th Century garb surrounding a pool of flowing water and rocks formed in the shape of a cross to simulate an actual spring.
“I fell in love with it,” Kilby said. “There is real high kitsch there. … I wondered how many places like this are around Florida that we ignore because they are out for the tourist dollar? But they are cool places.”
His book begins by exploring the “myth that won’t die”: Ponce de Leon’s search for the “Fountain of Youth, and how that myth became part of pop culture and Florida’s 20th century marketing and commercialism.
The book moves on to explore the development and marketing of Florida’s springs. If you are a nature lover, his book will take you places that perhaps you never would have considered going — past or present.
But his book also takes us from Ponce de Leon, the Weeki Wachee mermaids and other goofy attractions to the modern problems facing springs, including the clear, natural Silver Springs of his childhood.
They face threats from over-pumping and many have become choked by algae caused by nitrogen seeping into the groundwater from fertilizer, septic tanks and sewage treatment plans.
“When I started finding about the plight of springs, I couldn’t imagine the next generation growing up without having that resource,” Kilby said. “They are among the most precious treasures in the state. They are remarkably beautiful, probably more beautiful than anything in our state.”
“Finding the Fountain of Youth” will help Florida’s visitors and residents alike see another side to Florida’s springs — perhaps overly kitschy at times — and their need for protection.
“My goal is to create enough awareness that it becomes glaringly clear to the politicians that the public cares about this,” Kilby said.
Graphics reprinted with permission of the University Press of Florida. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Please do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be requested from bruceBritchie@gmail.com