Champions and giants and friends, some contemporary and some from another era, live right here in Hamilton County, often unseen but vital and important to our community life and our history.

I recently joined some contemporary friends, Randy Madison and Khrys Kantarze, when Randy offered to take us on a hike to visit with a much older member of our community, the largest native tree in Florida! This beautiful tree is a bald cypress, one of two co-champions located in Hamilton County at the Holton Creek Wildlife Management Area. This tree measures 557 inches (36.8 feet) in circumference, stands 84 feet tall, and carries a crown spread of 49 feet. We have the three largest of the entire State’s Champion Bald Cypress trees right in our back yard, with the third largest residing in Columbia County at O’Leno State Park. I don’t know the exact age of these magnificent trees, but I do know that the bald cypress tree can survive for centuries. A bald cypress will get taller for about 200 years, reaching heights of up to 150 feet during that time. If they are fortunate enough to escape the axe, these trees usually live for about 600 years, but many of them have survived for more than 1,000 years. Of the two co-champion trees at Holton Creek, one is mature and healthy, the other is mature and declining. Standing in the presence of these giants triggers the imagination of what it must have been like when the rivers and swamps of Florida were covered with cypress of this size. It was a rare moment to stand in the shadow of this giant and get an imaginary glimpse of the majesty of the Cypress forests of bygone times. If you’ve never seen these trees, you should. One look is all it takes to inspire awe and reverence for the magnificence of nature in North Florida.

The Florida Trail recently presented a Special Service Award for Significant Contributions to my friend who took us to see the champion cypress tree, local resident and a champion in his own right, Randy Madison. Randy’s “contributions” include founding and organizing the Florida Trail event known as “Ididahike,” an event that has brought hundreds of hikers to our area over the past few years. Randy also does a lot of trail maintenance and was kind enough to lead the hike to the champion cypress tree at Holton Creek. White Springs best knows Randy for his work of designing, cutting the lumber for, and leading the construction of the White Springs Veterans Park Memorial Gazebo. Congratulations Randy, and thanks for your service to White Springs and the surrounding community!

At another gathering of champions and old friends, Sandy Weldon recently hosted a farewell party at her lovely home on Spring Street in White Springs for Brenda and Billy Gipson, former operators of the old Adams Country Store. There was not a dry eye in the house as folks shared their memories and looked at a memory album of photographs of the many events that Brenda and Billy were involved in in White Springs over the past years. Thank you Sandy for your hospitality, and for giving Brenda and Billy such a special farewell gathering to honor their community service.

Speaking of community service, special thanks goes out to Waste Pro, the Town of White Springs and the many volunteers and contributors to the “White Springs Community Clean Up Day” last Saturday. Leading up to Saturday, a drive around town revealed that a lot of folks had large piles of “contributions” piled up at their curbs. Some piles were scavenged before the collection truck arrived and that was fine, just proving the old adage that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, but still, when the collection was over, Waste Pro had picked up eighteen and a half TONS of trash and taken it to the dump! Our town looks better and we appreciate the effort!

Our White Springs Community Cleanup did not accept certain chemicals and paints and similar items, but there is an event coming that provides you with a way to properly dispose of these items too. A “Toxic Roundup” is taking place this Saturday, April 13, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Columbia County Fairgrounds Parking Lot, located off Mary Ethyl Lane in Lake City. Drive up with items to dispose of and you will have help emptying your car or truck. The following will be accepted: fertilizers, gasoline/fuels, corrosives, paints/paint thinners, fluorescent lamps, propane tanks, radiator fluid, electronics, medications, used oil, lubricants, TVs/computers, aerosol cans, solvents, batteries (all types), used cooking oil, insecticides, household cleaners and pesticides.

Libraries are an important part of community life and there is so much more to a library than just books! Here is a liberal sampling of non-book activities at local and regional libraries.

Don’t forget about the White Springs Seed Lending Library. It takes place every week at the library on Mondays from 1-3 p.m. John Lacefield will be available each Monday to answer and research questions you might have about planting, and to share information on how to grow according to local agricultural suggestions.

Also at the library this week, a White Springs Seed Lending Library Presentation, “Building a Bird Garden: How you can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” will be held at the library on Monday, April 15, at 1:30 p.m. We know you love native plants but what about birds? Want more to visit your yard? What is the relationship between native plants and birds? What are the challenges that birds face? How can you help? This program will be presented by Jacqui Sulek, President of Four Rivers Audubon and Member of Sparkleberry Chapter, Florida Native Plant Society. This is a chance for gardeners and bird lovers to get some expert advice on attracting and sustaining birds and is sponsored by UF/IFAS Suwannee County Extension Master Gardener Program.

Don’t forget that in addition to these special programs, thanks to the efforts of librarian Tracy Woodard and her talented crew, the White Springs Library also has weekly activities throughout the month. Monday-Friday, 1-6 p.m., Coloring; Tuesday, 3-4 p.m., Teen Drama; Tuesday, 4-5:30 p.m., Teen Anime Club; Thursday, 10:30-11:30 a.m., Story Time. For more information call the White Springs Library at 386-397-1389.

Across the river from White Springs, the Live Oak Library has some happenings. On April 13, CPR and First Aid Class, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. This is a free class taught by Suwannee Fire Rescue. Space is limited. Please pre-register. April 15, a Spy Pilot Program & Book Signing from 6-7 p.m. Based on newly available information, the son of famed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers presents the facts and dispels misinformation about the Cold War espionage program that turned his father into a Cold War icon. And finally, on April 17 the office of Senator Marco Rubio will host Mobile Office Hours at the Live Oak Library from noon to 1:30 p.m. You will have the opportunity to meet local staff and learn about the services Senator Rubio’s office can offer his constituents. For more information on any of these programs, call Rubio’s North Florida Regional Office at 904-354-4300.

Well, once again I’ve said enough, so as we leave this week in the land of giants and old friends and good friends, I do want to remind you that if you have news you want to share, you should let “Life in White Springs” help. We’re always glad to hear about goings on in the community and will be glad to share anything that is appropriate for this column. I am thankful that we truly are all connected, and I hope that we can continue to feel proud of who we are and where we’re headed, and that we all appreciate how White Springs and its surrounding region is a very special place, to be honored and protected. As always, I look forward to seeing you out and about, enjoying your community and your life in White Springs.

Walter McKenzie


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