Walk the Interpretive Cave Dive Trail
Have you ever wanted to see what it’s like to explore a spring cave system? Maybe you aren’t certified to dive because you don’t like close spaces, can’t swim or just don’t feel like it.
If so, Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park provides a way to experience the same thrilling adventure of mapping an underwater cave system, but above the ground! And instead of having to bring all of the equipment like a regulator, tanks, weights and flippers, you just need your own two feet to get started.
The 1.2-mile interpretive trail that starts near Peacock Spring I is truly like no other, in that it allows hikers to mimic the path that the cave system and divers underneath their feet are taking. More than 22,000 feet of this system has been mapped, of which a part is covered by the trail. Interpretive kiosks and signs point out major features along the way, the history and science of cave diving and exploring, as well as plants and animals you may encounter in the forest.
The first stop is the “Breakdown Room,” where a sign explains the geology of springs and caves. Next is the “Peanut Restriction,” where a large dry sinkhole is visible on the surface. Almost 65 feet below, large rooms and narrow passages alternate, with a small tunnel forming the namesake restriction.
The “Crypt” has a sign detailing the possibility of collapse in the caves below.
The Olsen Sink window farther down and just off the trail provides a rare glimpse into this world, with fish and the lights of divers possibly seen from above. And as you come back to the beginning, Nicholson Tunnel opens up underneath you, a side passage off of the main larger passageway.
As the trail winds its way through the trees, you may find yourself thinking more about what is going on beneath the surface than the canopy above you. However, it is worth paying attention to it, as you walk through several distinct natural communities with their own wildlife and plant species.
Floodplain forests and bottomlands with dwarf and cabbage palms, sparkleberry bushes, redbay and other water-tolerant plants provide food for wading birds, frogs, alligators and white-tailed deer who feed near the water’s edge.
As the ground rises you suddenly find yourself in an upland forest, with magnolias, hickories, rabbits and perhaps even an industrious beaver to be seen. Florida maples are prevalent here, and in the fall their brightly colored leaves can put on quite the show.
The idea for this “virtual cave dive” was hatched by the North Florida Springs Alliance, the citizen support organization whose hard work and funding was recognized with a Statewide Park Project of the Year award. It’s easy to see just why this nature trail is award-winning - the superb scenery and the opportunity to get a glimpse of the complexity and magnificence below lend themselves to a fantastic experience.
The next time you come to Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, be sure to take the time to take a walk. You never know what you might discover.