Back to the future at Boulware Springs

You know you’re getting old when you remember distant events that felt like they happened just yesterday. Like that time I attended the dedication for GNV’s newly renovated Boulware Springs pump house.

They’d done a wonderful job back then. So when I went to Boulware Springs on Sunday to attend a public meeting to gather ideas for, um, restoring Boulware Springs, I said something like “Wait? What? We just did that!”

Turns out that was in 1990…33 years ago. Apparently time flies when you are busy getting on with your life and stuff.

A short refresher course here: GNV was literally born at Boulware Springs. It was where Alachua County residents met for a picnic in 1854 and voted to move the county seat from Newnansville (which no longer exists) to a newly established town to be called Gainesville.

For many years thereafter, water pumped from Boulware Springs would be young GNV’s main source of hydration.

It was also the source of the “free water” that GNV would use to lure the University of Florida here.

Alas, the years have not been kind to GNV’s birthplace. The old pump house sits now boarded up and disused.

But the City has plans to restore Boulware Springs using about $2 million in Wild Spaces and Public Places funds. If all goes well the design and permitting process will be complete in about a year, with reconstruction eating up another year…say the whole job completed some time in 2025.

Frankly, one reason the facility went to seed so quickly (33 years) is that the last restoration was done without much of a plan to either wisely use the facility or to properly maintain it.

This time, responsibility for maintaining Boulware Springs will be given over to the management staff at nearby Depot Park. As for the building’s ultimate use…well that’s why they had the meeting.

The building itself is not all that big, perhaps suitable for small weddings and community meetings.

On the other hand, the Boulware Springs Nature Park is comprised of about 100 acres. It’s adjacent to the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, and there’s lots of room to host any number of events or activities.

Some want to tear up asphalt and return the nature park to, well, nature. Others suggested it host activities for children…to get the kids back to nature. Some thought we haven’t done a very good job of documenting the site’s historic value to GNV. Oh, and someone wanted to make the fish who frequent the springs “happy.”

Someone (it might have been me) suggested it might make a perfect creative “retreat” and studio venue for GNV‘s artistic community.

The most ambitious proposal came from former County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson. He reminded us that back in the 1990s there was a serious proposal to create a water park at Boulware Springs.

“But there was no enthusiasm from City staff and it never received much attention by the public or elected officials,” he says. “Our community needs a water park and this would be a good place.”

Hutch estimates that a “lazy river” type water feature could be built for $9 million to $12 million. “If the City is interested in making this work, a public-private partnership would be the way to go, as the private sector can build more quickly and efficiently,” he argues.

Whatever we end up doing, mission wise, there are basic brick-and-mortar renovations that are on the must do list.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what the evolution of GNV’s watery birthplace turns out to be.

Although I suppose it’s too much to hope for that, 33 years from now, I’ll still be around to say “Wait! What? We just did that!”

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