The 75-mile long Santa Fe River is home to a considerable number of aquatic creatures and many proud Northern Floridians. The spring-fed lake is an extremely important ecosystem for several species of turtles, birds, manatees and fish — more importantly, “It is home,” said the president of Our Santa Fe River (OSFR), Pam Smith.
In recent years, the Santa Fe River has experienced a number of threats, such as water extraction, nitrate pollution, new pipelines and mining operations.
“The list is only growing,” Smith said. To help protect the river, OSFR organizes the annual Santa Fe RiverFest.
The Santa Fe RiverFest is an annual songwriting competition that raises money and awareness for the challenges faced by the Santa Fe River. The 7th Annual Santa Fe RiverFest on Sunday, April 9, will offer an entertaining day of original music, a silent auction and delicious homemade food.
The event was originally created to bring awareness about the river’s critical issues in a way the community could enjoy, Smith explained. Since there are so many musically adept people in the area, a songwriting contest seemed only fitting. All works submitted have some connection to the river, and the top seven are chosen to compete at the event. They are then judged on lyrics, originality and presentation.
In 2016, Santa Fe RiverFest added a band at the end of the contest so people could stay and enjoy the music. This year’s group will be Crooked Counsel, a Gainesville-native classic rock ‘n’ roll band that has been playing for over 20 years.
Smith’s favorite part of the event, she said, is “just seeing everybody enjoying an afternoon that focuses attention on the river but in a festival atmosphere.”
In 2016, OSFR netted about $6,000 through sponsors, tickets, food sales and the silent auction. This year, the organizers hope to raise even more, as a lot of the money will be put specifically toward the Sabal Trail Pipeline protest fund.
Smith said OSFR emphasizes conservation ideals and educational programs so that we will never have to live in a world in which “we can no longer drink fresh clean water, our vegetables can’t be irrigated, our rivers are dry and our springs no longer bubble.”
“Water is something that is becoming more and more valuable,” Smith said.
Many do not realize that our community sits over the Floridan aquifer system, one of the largest aquifers in the world. According to Smith, it is important to educate people about water conservation and purity because it might quickly become too late.
“When you live close to the river and you do a lot of outdoor activity, you realize the importance of it a little bit more,” Smith said.
Santa Fe RiverFest is about the importance of protecting our environment but even more so about the positive impact our community can make when we all come together.
Photography by: Susannah Peddie