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The Santa Fe Riverfest kicks off Mard 3 and runs the entire month of March. Among the events are numerous hikes, guided canoe and kayak paddling adventures, silent auctions and more.

FLORIDA – The rivers are an integral part of life in North Central Florida. They are the life blood of communities providing water for plants, wildlife and people. They are also an important part of our economy. Florida leads the southeast in farm income, produces about 67 percent of the U.S. oranges and accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s orange juice supply as well as numerous other crops. Tourism brings over 87 million visitors to the state, with an economic impact of $67 billion. The North Central area of Florida brings many tourists to the pristine springs and rivers for camping, kayaking and cave diving.

But periodic droughts, groundwater pumping to satisfy residential, agricultural, and industrial water demands, and groundwater pollution from urban and agricultural lands are impacting Florida’s spring systems. Water flow in many of Florida’s springs has been declining, while nutrient loading to the springs has been growing, affecting the condition of aquatic ecosystems and water clarity in the springs and downstream bodies of water. Changes in spring water flow and quality can also degrade the recreational experiences of springs users, affecting both the economy and the health of the rivers.

A group of concerned citizens banded together to increase awareness of the health of the springs and aquifer and its impact.. Our Santa Fe River (OSFR), which is a nonprofit organization, was founded in 2007 as a grassroots educational organization to help raise awareness of the importance of the springs and aquifer.

For the past eight years the organization has sponsored the RiverFest song writing contest as a way to raise funds to promote awareness of the rivers and fund projects to protect and preserve the rivers and springs. The contest is open to all song writers, but the songs have to be about the Santa Fe River. The OSFR members pick the best 6-10 songwriters who then compete on stage at Rum 138, which is located in Fort White. Originally a canoe and kayak rental place, Rum 138 has added a stage for concerts, an art gallery, a cafe and has become a resource center for the springs and rivers. Rum 138 has also become the headquarters of the local Sierra Club. The RiverFest songwriting contest is held each spring on the outside stage. The winning songwriter receives a prize of $300 and all songwriters that perform get a video of their performance. Each year the contest has grown, attracted a broader audience and raised more money.

This year the OSFR decided to expand the RiverFest contest to a series of events covering the whole month of March. These include kayak trips on the river, plant hikes to learn about the plants that comprise the river ecosystem, lectures by experts on the ecosystem and a reunion concert of past Riverfest winners.

These events are all geared toward raising awareness of the rivers in a hands on experience. “Our goal is to make it easy for the area residents and visitors to have fun and learn more about our precious water resources. As those of us who volunteer with the Our Santa Fe River organization have experienced firsthand, there is a lot to learn,” said Sharon Yeago, RiverFest Event Chair. “The events also will enable us to raise funds so we can continue our grassroots efforts to protect the aquifer, springs and waters in this area. This year we had the support to sponsor more events. These events become a vehicle for us to raise awareness among the area residents about the unique beauty and activities the rivers provide,” Yeago said.

The events begin on Saturday, March 3, with a plant hike at Rum Island Park. Starting at 9 a.m., Colette Jacono, Ph.D, a botanist and plant ecologist specializing in aquatic and wetland plants, will lead a short hike through a low-lying hardwood forest and swamp adjacent to the Santa Fe River. Participants will learn how to identify various trees and plants that make up the river ecosystem. The hike is limited to 20 people and there is a $20 donation.

The following day, March 4, there will be a three hour paddle up the Santa Fe river starting at 10 a.m. from the bible Camp Boat Ramp on U.S. Highway 441. Led by Master Naturalist and river guide Lars Andersen, the trip will explore the quiet and remote section of the Santa Fe River, above the River Sink and O’Leno Park. It will be an up-and-back paddle, going up to the Santa Fe’s confluence with Olustee Creek. The tour includes shuttle and is $50 with boat rental and a $20 donation to OSFR; $30 with a participant’s own boat with a $15 donation to OSFR. This is limited to 24 people.

The following Saturday on March 10, there will be another paddle guided by Andersen. A nine-mile section of Santa Fe River, from Highway 27 to Highway 47 will be paddled over five hours, guided by Master Naturalist Lars Andersen. The route will include the river’s most famous springs: Poe, Rum Island, Blue, Ginnie, Devil’s Ear & Eye, July and Myrtles Fissure. The group will leave at 10 a.m. From the Highway 27 boat ramp. Tour includes shuttle: $50 with boat rental and $20 donation to OSFR) or $30 with partiicpant’s own boat with a $15 donation to OSFR. This is limited to 24 people.

On March 17, Our Santa Fe River and the North Central Florida Blues Society, will co-sponsor a paddle of the Santa Fe River from Highway 27 to Rum Island starting at 9:30 a.m.. Participants will rendezvous at Lazy Turtle Lodge for an old-style picnic with live music featuring award-winning Bear & Robert. The event is free, but paddlers should bring their own picnic lunch and liquids, blanket or chair. Rum 138 is offering canoe and kayak discounts for this event. There is no charge for this event.

On March 18, there will be a songwriters reunion concert. Co-sponsored by High Springs Music in the Park, previous songwriting contest winners and select contestants from the annual contest sponsored by Our Santa Fe River organization will showcase their songs about the river . The concert will take place at James Paul Park from 1 p.m. to 3:30 and then move to the Great Outdoors Restaurant for more performers from 4 to 7 p.m.

On Saturday March 24, there will be another plant hike with Colette Jacono. This will be through a riverside hammock. Starting at 9 a.m. from the Highway 47 boat ramp in Gilchrist County. This is a 1.5 mile hike along the Santa Fe River. The area contains the largest numbers of tree and shrub species per unit area in the continental U.S., with canopy is so dense that sunlight touches the ground only in the winter. There is a $20 donation and the hike is limited to 20 people.

The following day on March 25, the Annual Songwriters contest will be held at Rum 138. Besides the music performances by contestants, the event also features a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle as well as food and drink. The event runs from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with additional musicians performing after the contest. Admission to the event is $5 in advance, $7 at the door, and free for 12 and under.

In addition to these events, OSFR is also co-sponsoring 12 other events with local organizations. These include full moon paddles on evenings of March 2, 30 and 31, 10Can’s 4th Annual Survival Race For heroes at Blue Springs State Park on March 3, Rum 138 Rumba concerts on March 10 and 24 featuring a variety of local music acts and the O’Leano Chilli Cook off and Springs celebration on April 7. Additional information is available at OurSantaFeRiver.org.

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                                         email: rcarson@alachuatoday.com

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Agricultural students at High Springs Community School will benefit from animals housed on campus.

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Community School Agriculture Department is now home to a couple of farm animals, but eventually will house more. This addition is thanks to the generous support of the community and the school administration. 

Recently, the school granted permission for students in the Agriculture Program to house their animals on school grounds.  Following that action, agriculture students went out into the community seeking financial contributions from local businesses so that they could afford to purchase the materials needed to build pens for their animals. 

A financial contribution was provided by Kelly Barber through Edward Jones Investments.  Labor to construct the pens was provided by Maintenance Management, Inc. 

The school now has four secure and permanent animal pens that are currently being used by two students, but the pens will serve many more students’ animals in the future.

The two students currently housing their hogs in the pens are Tony Myers and Olivia Beavers.  Both students are in the sixth grade, are members of the High Springs FFA Chapter and are showing pigs for the first time at the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show in Gainesville. The Youth Fair is held at the Alachua County Fairgrounds during the first weekend in March. 

During the year, each student is responsible for the care of maintenance of their animal.  Both Myers and Beavers stated that what they have enjoyed most about this project is being solely responsible for their animal. 

In addition, said Beavers, “One of the things I’ve learned raising my hog is that this responsibility is different than caring for a standard pet like a cat or dog.”  She does plan to show an animal at the fair again next year but may switch to showing cattle instead to broaden her horizons. 

“When working with livestock, not everything goes as planned,” said Myers. “You must be flexible in finding solutions to the problems you encounter.”  He also plans to show an animal at the next year’s Youth Fair.

Both students are raising market hogs, which means they will be sold at auction at the upcoming fair. The money these students receive for selling their animal is often put toward the cost of purchasing a future animal or for future expenses like vehicles and college. 

Having the opportunity to experience raising a farm animal first hand not only enhances the agriculture education they receive but will also provide them with many life skills.

“Raising animals teaches students valuable lessons on ethics, animal care, profit and loss, and many students use the money earned to contribute to their own college fund,” said High Springs FFA Advisor Jessica Butts.

Butts said, “I am very pleased with the progress of our Ag program this year at High Springs Community School. Thanks to the FFA Chapter’s Alumni, a generous donation from Kelly Barber of Edward Jones, and others we have transformed an unused area into four new pig pens.”

“These facilities allow students who are not able to raise an animal at home the opportunity to participate in raising swine for the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show. Before this addition we did not have a place to raise swine,” she said.

Butts added, “We are very grateful to all the donors who helped to make this project happen.

“Our FFA Chapter has been growing and we are happy to be able to offer more opportunities to our members.”

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ALACHUA/HIGH SPRINGS – Organizers and volunteers for Relay for Life, a signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, have been gearing up for weeks for tonight’s Pink and Purple on the Patio event, sponsored by the Great Outdoors, and also for the upcoming culmination of Relay for Life at Hal Brady Recreation Complex in Alachua.

Good food, live music and a full bar are available at The Great Outdoors Restaurant, 18587 High Springs Main Street, from 5 – 8 p.m. Let the server know which team you support as the Great Outdoors will donate a percentage of the proceeds to Relay for Life or to your Relay for Life Team. This year’s theme is “United We Stand, United We Relay!” The top sponsors for this event are Waste Pro and Taylor’d HVAC Services Inc.

Coming up next month is the culmination of a considerable amount of fundraising efforts at Relay for Life of Alachua and High Springs. April 13 from 6 – 10 p.m., volunteers, cancer survivors and their caregivers will join together at the Hal Brady Alachua Recreation Complex, 14300 N.W. 146th Terrace, Alachua, to honor cancer survivors. There will be food and games available.

Luminaria bags, small bags decorated with names and sometimes messages to the people they are dedicated to, are lit at night in remembrance of a life touched by cancer. They can be dedicated to a loved one lost, someone currently battling cancer, or anyone who has overcome it.

“It is not too late to start a team or join an existing team,” said American Cancer Society Event Organizer Stevie Doyle. In addition to going online to sign up, Doyle can answer questions and steer potential volunteers toward team captains who might need some extra help. She can be reached via email at stevie.doyle@cancer.org or by calling 352-240-5055.

Helping hands are always needed the day of the event. For those people who want to get involved, but cannot commit their time to a team, there are many ways they can help. Tents need to go up, luminaria bags need to be lit at night, funds need to be collected and counted. Organizers agree that there are many small ways to help out that make a huge difference.

This year something new has been added to the Relay for Life event. A fireworks display by the “Detonators” is planned for 10 p.m. to end this year’s Relay for Life. “It’s also a fun way to celebrate our cancer survivors, their caregivers and all the volunteers who made this year’s Relay for Life so successful,” said Doyle.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners were faced with unexpected expenses during their March 12 meeting.

The first unexpected expense was the cost of nearly $43,000 to perform geo-technical repairs to remediate a sinkhole that opened up at the intersection of Southwest 3rd Place and Southwest 265th Terrace.

During Hurricane Irma, Newberry experienced more than 10 inches of rainfall. Two sinkholes and a water main had to be repaired due to that event. As those repairs were being conducted, a stop sign on the northwest corner of the intersection was observed as it slowly sank into the ground several feet.

The City contacted GSE Engineering and Consulting, Inc. to perform a geotechnical site evaluation to determine if additional sinkhole activity was occurring under this intersection, which would also potentially damage the potable water mains and sanitary manhole/gravity sewer lines located at the intersection.

Based on their report, the City went out for bids and obtained three, but the bid amounts were above the purchasing policy threshold that requires sealed bids. According to the staff report by Director of Utilities and Public Works Jamie Jones, “Staff has also worked with FEMA to secure funding for these repairs, but it remains to be determined as to if the work will be eligible for FEMA funding.”

Ultimately, commissioners voted to authorize City Manager Mike New to execute a purchase order for $42,990 and have GSE Engineering oversee the geo-technical repairs to the intersection. They also authorized New to approve change orders not to exceed 15 percent of the purchase order amount.

“The repair will be made by pumping concrete under the street to fill a bunch of voids,” said New. “I expect repairs to be completed within a month,” he said.

A second issue requiring immediate attention was emergency repairs to the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) tank #2, which had suffered a critical failure. The staff report indicated, “The failure was to the clarifier drive unit, which caused structural and mechanical damage to the clarifier, rendering it inoperable.” As the City only has three tanks and Tank #3 is currently operating at 100 percent of design capacity, Tank #2required repairs as soon as possible.

Tank #1, which had already been taken out of commission to make recommended repairs, is being readied to go back into service. Funding of $125,000 budgeted for repairs to Tank #1 are being redirected to repair Tank #2, this year and to schedule repairs to Tank #1 next year. “Basically, we just switched the order of those repairs and will repair Tank #2 next year,” said New.

In addition, the Commission authorized suspension of the requirement for competitive procurement and authorized the city manager to execute a purchase order with a qualified contractor to perform all necessary repairs.

It is anticipated that a qualified contractor would be on site in two to three weeks. The repairs will likely take approximately 90 days to complete.

A third item commissioners considered was the transfer of a little more than $76,000 into the Fire Station Construction fund to complete the work begun in January 2017 by Tumbleson White Construction, Inc. (TWC). According to a summary of this issue, “the project was scheduled to be substantially complete on Aug. 17, 2017.”

The City terminated the agreement on Nov. 8, 2017 due to default by TWC. In December 2018, commissioners directed staff to complete TWC's work using the same subcontractors that had been used by TWC.

The City had paid TWC for work completed by their subcontractors. However, TWC failed to pay their subcontractors for work they had completed on the Fire Station project.

“It was very important to the city commissioners that the subcontractors not be penalized because Tumbleson White Constructors went out of business prior to paying them,” said New. The commission authorized payment to the subcontractors for work completed prior to TWC's termination for which TWC had been paid. At the time the City estimated that the cost to complete TWC's work scope and pay the subcontractors was a little more than $88,000.

Additional subcontractors who said they, too, had not been paid by TWC began to come forward. After the claims were substantiated, the total amount to complete TWC's work scope is $126,201, leaving a difference of $38,169.

Commissioners approved staff's recommendation to provide funding of $43,600 from budgeted projects that are unlikely to be used during this fiscal year and the balance of $32,500 from General Fund reserves, which currently total $1,450,000.

“We will pursue this matter further with TWC, which will take some time,” said New. “Right now we are paying for this project twice to get it completed,” he said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Recreation is a large part of people’s enjoyment of the community in which they live. Realizing that, as well as having the opportunity to purchase 3.88 acres east of Memorial Park, 2715 U.S. Highway 441, the High Springs City Commission approved a land purchase to improve the recreational facilities at that park.

The City will also plans to submit a grant application to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop the nearly four-acre site. The grant being considered would provide $200,000, with a match from the City of the same amount, resulting in $400,000 to make improvements to the Memorial Park Extension. The City intends to use money from Wild Spaces Public Places, already awarded to High Springs, for the $200,000 match.

Recreation Director Robert Basford was on hand to explain the proposed improvements to that property. As there is currently no parking area provided at Memorial Park, one of the first things he mentioned was a 100-vehicle parking area.

“Right now, if you go by there, you can see cars parked everywhere because we don’t have places to park,” he said. He also said there are currently 13 softball fields, but no baseball fields in the city, so a baseball field is another feature of the intended improvements. Lighting will also be included in the grant proposal along with a new playground. “We don’t have a playground at that park,” he said.

There are other items to be included in the grant request, just in case funds are available after all of the main projects have been completed. One item mentioned by Basford is a walking trail.

Before city commissioners considered the property purchase during the March 22 commission meeting, City Attorney Scott Walker said that during a title search of the property it was found that there was an exception granted to Seaboard Coastline Railroad whereby they had reserved a mineral rights easement on the property.

“Both Mr. Booth [city manager] and I think it doesn’t affect the proper use we have for the property,” he said. “This is a very common thing with railroads. The commission needs to decide if they will accept the title exception.”

The property closing agreement includes the cost of the land purchase at $194,000, $23 settlement charges to be paid to the city attorney, a binder deposit of $20,000, leaving $173,236 for the City of High Springs to pay the property owner.

On another recreation-related topic, City Manager Ed Booth explained that the Civic Center building renovation was going along well and the project is expected to be completed by the first or second week of April.

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GAINESVILLE – Alachua County Clerk of Court J.K. “Jess” Irby has announced the Alachua County Clerk’s Office is now certified by the U.S. State Department as a Passport Acceptance Facility. U.S. Citizens can now apply for a passport at the Alachua Family and Civil Courthouse located at 201 E. University Avenue, Gainesville. Passport services are available at the courthouse Monday through Friday, from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., excluding holidays. The Clerk’s Office also offers passport/ID photo services for an additional $15 fee.

“If you want to explore the world, the Alachua County Clerk’s Office can now be your first stop,” said J.K. “Jess” Irby. “We are a one-stop shop for all your passports needs.”

For more information, visit the Clerk of the Court’s Passport Information website or call 352-374-3625.

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Easter came early for children at the High Springs Day Care Center. The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe regularly visits the children and on this occasion provided Easter treats and gift baskets to each child.

HIGH SPRINGS – Children at the High Springs Day Care Center were thrilled on Wednesday, March 21, as the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe showed up with specially made Easter treats and had planned a hunt –– but not for Easter eggs.

The children were treated to special sweet treats made by Kiwanis Club President Linda Rice Chapman. She created an imaginative treat appropriate to the Easter bunny theme. “The children were delighted with their Easter treats. It was a big hit,” said Kiwanis Event Organizer Carole Fernandez. Each treat was made to look like a small car with pink, purple or yellow bunnies at the wheel. Tires were made from Oreo cookies. The body of each car was a long cream-filled cake. The bunnies were marshmallow and the steering wheel was a pretzel covered in chocolate with multi-colored sprinkles. Fruit juice rounded out the Easter party menu.

Following snack time, each child was provided with a sticker shaped like a zebra, butterfly or egg. Individual Kiwanis Club members went outside with each child to help them hunt for and identify their specific pastel plastic Easter basket with a matching sticker to the one they had been given. The appropriate child’s name was also written on the back of each basket to guarantee that each child received the correct basket.

Instead of loading up each basket with candy, Fernandez did her best to match donated children’s books with each child’s interest and reading level.

Children also received crayons or other toys such as stuffed animals and small cars. Cookies, learning flash cards and a small amount of candy were also included in each basket.

“We just tried to include an assortment of different things in each basket and tailored them as best we could to each child’s interests,” said Fernandez.

Squeals of delight were heard as each child found their very own basket and saw what they had received. The children seemed to enjoy their gift baskets and showed off some of their items to their friends and teachers. “I think the Kiwanis Club members enjoyed this event as much as the children,” Fernandez said. “It was a fun day for adults and children.”

The High Springs Day Care Center primarily works with children from two to five years of age, although they also have children slightly older who are “after schoolers.” All were included in this event.

Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, a local service organization with members from High Springs and Alachua, tries to do something special for the High Springs Day Care Center every month.

In the past, Fernandez has been responsible for children’s outings to the Alachua Splash Park, a Halloween carnival and a trip to Santa Fe College’s zoo, just to name a few.

“The children get so excited no matter what we do for them,” she said. “It’s a delight to work with them and expose them to places and events they may have never seen or done before.”

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe has spearheaded a campaign to request donations for new or gently used books for children of all ages. The books will be distributed to area children, given as rewards for achieving school goals and used to populate a lending library during the summer months at the Alachua Police Department substation in the Merrillwood neighborhood.

Kiwanis Club members are asking area residents to donate books that their children have outgrown to children who cannot afford to buy books of their own. Drop off points are Boukari Law, P.A./Alachua County Today Newspaper, 14804 Main Street, Alachua, and at Bev’s Burger Cafe on U.S. Highway 441 in High Springs.

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