|Lithia Springs is a great family day destination.|
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY—I’m amazed at how many beautiful settings Florida has to offer. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, I discover a place like Lithia Springs, a crystal clear, shallow, sandy-bottomed pool of spring water that can be enjoyed for the bargain price of $4 per day.
My partner Drew and I went as part of our “Baby Bucket List,” or things we want to do before our first child arrives at the beginning of March. Last week, we conquered the Juniper Springs Run, which was beautiful and fun, but not something you want to do when experiencing the many symptoms of pregnancy. Being on a primitive, 7-mile canoe trip is about the last thing I should have attempted while tired, cranky and hormonal. I guess some things have to be learned the hard way.
So Lithia Springs was a perfect concession. It wasn’t as adventurous as our bucket list undertaking, but the 72-degree water was a perfect remedy for a hot summer day, and boy, was it hot!
Lithia Springs is located in eastern Hillsborough County, west of Lithia Pinecrest Road and north of Fishhawk Road. (It took us about an hour to get there from Sarasota.)
Two springs, Lithia Major and Lithia Minor, empty into a tributary of the Alafia River and are part of Lithia Springs Park, owned and operated by Hillsborough County. Lithia Minor is fenced off to prevent any impacts of human use, but Lithia Major is the source of a 2-acre, natural swimming hole.
Back in 1957, the springs were rescued from becoming part of a phosphate operation. Gardinier Inc. (now Mosaic
|Lithia Springs circa 1958, before it was taken over by the county.|
Phosphate Inc.) owned the original 160-acre tract since the 1930s and planned to use the fresh water as part of the phosphate processing procedure.
While portions of the tributary were eventually used for processing phosphate in the 1960s, Gardiner Inc. cut a deal with the county, leasing the springs and surrounding area to Hillsborough County for 99 years at the bargain price of $1.
At the time of the exchange, the main spring was a popular swimming hole, however people were essentially trespassing to access it.
|The major springs seen through a lifeguard stand.|
Today, patrons can enjoy the spring by paying a $2 entry fee with an additional $2 per person swimming upcharge and take advantage of a designated swimming pool surrounding the spring. A man-made cement wall borders the swimming hole, which serves as a nice location to set towels and other belongings.
The park is the prefect place to bring small children, as the majority of the pool is less than 3 feet in depth, with a designated deep end surrounding Lithia Major, which is closed off with metal grating.
There are also several lifeguards posted around the pool during the busiest times of the year, so the experience includes a lot of beneficial safety features.
About every hour, the life guards clear patrons from the pool for 15 minutes to “check the spring and allow the sand to settle and increase visibility.” It’s all for the safety of the patrons, one lifeguard assured us; however, the intermission seemed more like a chance for the lifeguards to cool off and take a cigarette break than anything else.
Whatever the case, those 15 minutes come in handy if you are hungry or thirsty. The park does not allow food or coolers inside the swimming area, and all water must be contained in reusable Tupperware, not disposable bottles.
|The 2-acre pool provides an excellent place to swim on a hot summer day.|
Just outside the swimming area, there is a playground area for children to enjoy that is shaded by large oaks and accompanied by several picnic tables.
The breaks also gave us an opportunity to check out the rest of the park, located along the Alafia River, which consists of rare terrain, including varied plant communities, river cypress swamps, hardwood and high sand hills.
Lithia Springs is also a popular camping locale, with about 44 campsites, some of which are riverside, and two shower houses. All campsites have power hookup and water spigots.
All and all, we were pleasantly surprised by our day trip to Lithia Springs. We can’t wait to come back as a family when the weather cools or take our little one there for a day trip on a hot summer day!