The first property was purchased in March 1983 for habitat preservation and watershed protection and to provide recreational opportunities in the Central Florida area. Additional purchases in 1991 and 1995 have formed a vast natural area in Orange and Lake counties. Rock Springs Run is an eight-mile river that forms the boundary between Wekiwa Springs State Park and Rock Springs Run State Reserve. Rock Springs Run eventually flows into the Wekiva River, which then runs 15 miles and empties into the St. Johns River. The Wekiva River Basin includes Wekiwa Springs Run, Rock Springs Run, the Wekiva River, Blackwater Creek and Seminole Creek. These waterways are the first congressionally designated National Wild and Scenic River basin in Florida.
Logging has always played a major role in this area with the 1920s being the height of the logging era. Most of the old growth cypress was logged out of the river on elevated tram roads located throughout the park. Some of those tram roads are still used by park staff today to access different areas of the reserve. A number of small towns that supported the local industry have now all but disappeared. The Ethel Cemetery, located in Rock Springs Run State Reserve, is the oldest known cemetery in Lake County, built in 1880. The cemetery was located in the town of Ethel, which was a railroad stop town formerly known as Moody. Citizen support organization volunteers constructed a new entrance and fence for the cemetery, which contains four intact grave markers.