Fed by first-magnitude Jackson Blue Spring and nearly a dozen smaller springs, Merritt’s Mill Pond is a waterway unlike any other in Florida, its unusual hues trapped between rocky slopes and edged with moss-draped cypress trees.
Lat-Lon: 30.780132, -85.168502
Fees: free unless launching at Blue Springs or Arrowhead
From exit 142 for Marianna on Interstate 10, drive north on SR 71 for 2 miles. Turn west onto US 90 and follow it into Marianna for 1.7 miles. Stay in the right lane and turn north on SR 71, continuing on it for 1.1 miles. Turn right onto Blue Springs Rd and drive 1.7 miles. Turn right onto Hunters Fish Camp Rd. Continue 0.7 mile to a narrow opening into the unpaved parking area on the left.
Start with 64.6 million gallons out of Jackson Blue Spring daily, and add in the flow of nearly a dozen named springs. Choke back the flow of these aquamarine waters with a large dam. The resulting spillover of the spring run infiltrated the lowlands between the hills, marooning lines of cypress that once lined the original waterway. Draped in dense wrappings of Spanish moss, they add a ghostly feel as the moss waves in the breeze above the intense turquoise waters.
This is Merritt’s Mill Pond. Many people, including ourselves, come to Marianna and never give it a second thought. You pass it as you drive west into town on US 90, crossing the dam that you don’t notice.
Why is it a pond? The original dam, about a third of the way down the run, powered a grist mill built after the Civil War ended. We saw this photo in the Florida State Archives and marveled, as it certainly looks like nothing you’d see in Florida. But the enormous limestone boulders found around Marianna make this believable.
Many decades later, when US 98 was built, a dam was extended across and the old “Ice House” – which was many a restaurant before it closed – was originally built as a hydroelectric power plant.
Below that dam, the waterway – much shallower and narrower – is known as Spring Creek, and its crystalline waters continue south to feed the Chipola River. A boardwalk leads down to the creek at Spring Creek Park along US 98.
Only two public access points let you explore Merritt’s Mill Pond and its multitude of springs. One is free and open year-round. Hunters Fish Camp Landing – found via the directions given above – has a paved boat ramp. See the map above for location.
At either location, you can put in and paddle upstream or down along the lake, which is about 4 miles long and covers 202 acres. Hunters Fish Camp Landing is a little north of the halfway point of the waterway, within a quick paddle of three named springs: Heidi Hole, Lamars Landing, and Gator Spring.
Blue Springs Recreation Area is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day, only on weekends after July 31. It’s here that Jackson Blue Spring forms its enormous basin, and it’s not far downstream to take a peek at Shangri-La Springs, Indian Washtub, and Twin Caves. Canoe and kayak rentals ($10/hr) are available on site. Launching your own is included in the $4 entrance fee.
There are two more places that will let you explore Merritt’s Mill Pond, but both are private businesses.
Arrowhead Campground sits right next to the end of Merritt’s Mill Pond along US 90. In addition to campsites and rental cabins, they have a boat launch which you can use for a fee. Put in your pontoon to cruise the waterway, or bring your kayak and spend all day paddling up one side of the lake and back down the other. If you’re an angler, you probably already know that this lake is famous for a world-record shellcracker (4.86 pounds). Phone: 850-526-7578
Divers come from around the world to dive Jackson Blue Spring because of its clarity. Thanks to Cave Adventurers, a dive shop situated along Merritt’s Mill Pond, many divers have explored the other springs along this unusual waterway as well. Dive platforms are set up at several places, including the Hole in The Rock and Twin Caves, and divers can arrange a drop-off or rent a scooter or a boat to get to these spots. Cave Adventurers also oversees dive training at Blue Spring Recreation Area. Phone: 850-482-6016