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Dade City Garden Club brings the message of Springs Eternal close to home

Hues of blue and green draw you in, get you thinking about making a date to paddle a canoe through the cool, clear water or simply lie back and ride the current's ripple in a place so still you can hear the plop of a turtle dive.

Take a gander at the "before" photo — taken close to 40 years ago — and the accompanying prose that tells how development contributed to the steady demise of these fragile Florida springs.

It makes you want to get the word out.

That's what happened to Jill Wiemer, a native Floridian who had already seen the changes in the surrounding landscape over the years as more people flooded into Florida.

"I'm not against controlled growth," she said. "But there are lakes and ponds where we used to water ski that are now pastures with cows in them."

Wiemer was in Gainesville last April to tour the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens with fellow members of the Dade City Garden Club. She and a few others took a detour to the Florida Museum of Natural History to see an exhibit called Springs Eternal — Florida's Fragile Fountains of Youth, featuring the work of nature photographer John Moran, who had been chasing the springs with his camera for 40 years.

While others in her group were blown away by the sheer beauty of the photographs, Wiemer was captivated by something else.

"I grew up in Florida and swam in all these springs," she said. "But I had no idea of the extent of the deterioration until I saw those pictures."

That, in a nutshell, was the purpose of the exhibit.

Like the springs that serve as windows to the aquifer, Moran's photos offer a visual history of the changes in Florida's springs and an introduction to a movement to preserve Florida's blue waters, called the Springs Eternal Project.

Founded by Moran and partners Lesley Gamble, creator of the Urban Aquifer, and Rick Kilby, author of Finding the Fountain of Youth, the Springs Eternal Project encompasses a variety of scientists, researchers, artists and advocates. The project's intent is to engage others in helping to preserve the springs and the aquifer through efforts that include speaking engagements, websites, a legislative outreach program and the exhibit.

As chair of the garden club's upcoming flower show, Wiemer got to thinking about the springs and what would happen to the giant panels when the exhibit was over. She sent an email to Moran asking if they could somehow be part of her show.

To her delight, he responded.

Springs Eternal was headed to Tallahassee with hopes of catching lawmakers' attention.

"Much of the content of the exhibit is not flattering to the political leadership of Florida," Moran said. "We are failing the test to preserve and protect our blue water gems."

Even so, Moran found a way to make it work.

For some time he had been thinking about creating traveling exhibits for garden clubs and other organizations to use in their own areas. Moran thought this might be a good time to try it out.

And so the garden club ended up buying 18 small scale panels of the Springs Eternal exhibit that will be on display at their annual flower show on Saturday.

"Garden clubs are famous around the state for their activities," Moran said, noting the long tradition of environmental advocacy by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc. "They already have the knowledge about water wise plants, fertilizers and what plant goes where. These are savvy, engaged, passionate women and I respect deeply their sense of mission."

While the Dade City Garden Club's mission includes maintaining the building and gardens of the grounds, education is a huge component. Members plant trees throughout the community as part of annual Arbor Day celebrations. Others share their knowledge and skills with youngsters at Lacoochee Elementary School. They also contribute to broader environmental efforts through the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs Inc., and National Garden Club Inc.

And they tend to know who their lawmakers are and how they vote.

Moran's photographs have served as inspiration for Dade City flower designers who, for Saturday's show, were encouraged to tap into the natural beauty of the Ichetucknee Springs in Gainesville or perhaps create a desert-type arrangement as a nod to Bartow's Kissengen Springs, that dried up in 1950.

For her part, Wiemer said she hopes the Springs Eternal Flower Show will inspire and motivate those who come to the show as well as others who might catch or host the traveling exhibit when it goes out on the road.

"We want to take it to schools and libraries — basically anyone who will let us put it up," Wiemer said. "Water is the basic need and that's a message that needs to be shared."

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@tampabay.com.

• The Dade City Garden Club presents Springs Eternal, A Standard Flower Show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the club, 13630 Fifth St., Dade City. It features the photography of John Moran, horticulture exhibits, educational exhibits, gardener's bazaar and plant sale. Go go to dadecitygardenclub.com.

• For information on the Springs Eternal Project, go to springseternalproject.org or www.facebook.com/SpringsEternal.

Dade City Garden Club brings the message of Springs Eternal close to home 03/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 8:03pm]

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