It's ironic that I would get to re-visit Ulele Spring the same week as the Florida legislature decides on the future of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. While lawmakers in our state capitol sat idle allowing the health of our springs to decline, Tom Ries got busy saving a spring. His ambitious plan required cobbling together a half dozen grants in order to make it happen. The restored spring is positioned between a new restaurant in the old Water Works building and a brand new city park, marking the terminus of a Riverwalk that stretches more than two miles to the Tampa Bay History Center. The invasive undergrowth has been removed and replanted with native foliage, and the passage to the river will be opened up, creating a new basin that should be large enough for wintering manatees. Two bridges over the spring run will connect Tampa's new Water Works Park and the restaurant site. A statue commissioned by the restaurant's owner will immortalize the fictitious Indian maiden for the whom the spring was re-named: Ulele (it was originally called Magbee Spring.) The restaurant also bears her name, and is owned by the same group that owns Florida's legendary Columbia Restaurant.
I was able to see the spring during the construction phase because my friend and colleague John Moran had connected with Tom and he volunteered to give us a tour. It been just over a year since my first visit to the spring and I was impressed with the how much had happened in such a short period of time. The spring restoration should be done soon and the park is scheduled to be open in time for a concert on the 4th of July. Tom walked us through the site, explaining how he found another small spring on a map from 1888 and discovered it under the water works building being piped into Tampa Bay. It's now being piped into the Ulele run and it should add to the overall flow. He also explained that every year between 300,000 and 400,000 people flock to the power plant south of Tampa to see manatees in winter. If the Ulele Spring project is successful in bringing manatees to its man made basin, the park and project are guaranteed to be a favorite destination for residents of the Tampa Bay area. In my mind it's already a hit. Maybe if we can find 1,000 more motivated individuals like Tom, and they each adopt a spring, create a restoration plan, and line up funding, we can save all of our springs!
|1888 map showing the original location of Ulele Spring|
across the street and a second spring to the north
|Looking towards the Hillsborough River|
|Lilies survive from the early days of Water Works Park|
|John Moran scouting new photo opportunities for his upcoming "Springs Eternal' book|
|The rocks around the spring basin were a new addition since my previous visit|
|John Moran and Tom Ries discuss the history of the restoration, years in the making|
|This will be the new basin that will hopefully attract manatees and snook|
|An overview with the Tampa skyline on the right and the Hillsborough River on the left|
|Today the spring bubbles up on the opposite side of the road from the original boil|
|The opposite side reads: "Prior to 1907 Ulele Spring was part of a beautiful stretch of Florida's natural habitat, an undisturbed waterway that provides Tampa's drinking water."|