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Going Places: Quite a Dip—with a Splash of Russian

Those warm mineral springs in North Port, along with the foreign intrigue, prove invigorating for a visitor.



 

Five hundred years ago, Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida searching for the fountain of youth. Legend says he never found it. If only he’d made his way to North Port. There, nestled among a manicured landscape, sits Florida’s only natural warm mineral springs—a place rumored to have astonishing wellness properties.

You may be acquainted with the system of freshwater springs spread across this state, crystal-clear rivers running with water so cold it sets your teeth on edge. Those springs have a certain rural charm; they’re the kind of places where you can rent inner tubes and floating coolers for your beer. I had assumed North Port’s warm mineral springs would be the same. That was before I met the Russians.

At the entrance to the mineral springs, I bought a day pass ($20) and noticed a sign printed in Cyrillic.

“Do you get a lot of Russians?” I asked the woman behind the counter.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Poles, too. And Germans.”

Of course, I thought. Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans, have a long history with mineral springs. For centuries, they have traveled abroad to “take the waters” in places like Baden-Baden in Germany or Bath, England. But North Port?

Yes, at it turns out. Enthusiastically, yes.

On the day of my visit, I was one of only a handful of Americans. The rest of the bathers were Russian, splashing in the warm water with such vigorous good health that I had the impression I’d been dropped into a Tolstoy novel. The male bathers were uniformly barrel-chested and bear-like, with large drooping mustaches (“whiskers,” Tolstoy would have called them). The women, in large part, were blond and rosy-cheeked.

By 9:30 a.m., many of the plastic chairs surrounding the pool had already been claimed. Not that anyone used the chairs as more than a docking station for their beach bags; everybody was in the water. I watched for a time, conspicuous in my chair, figuring out the rhythms of the spring. The pool has a circumference of 1.4 acres and is divided into sections: the outermost shallow section, 5 feet deep, where people passed in pairs or trios, making a slow paddle around the pool; and the inner section, the deep end, which runs to 250 feet, reserved mostly for floaters.

The spring water has one of the highest mineral contents in the United States, and bathers come for relief from arthritis, stress and headaches. The water itself remains a constant 84 to 87 degrees. Not as warm as the Gulf in summer but warmer than the achingly cold freshwater springs I have known. The pool circulates continuously, renewing itself from natural vents beneath the sand floor and flowing out into a creek that empties into the Myakka.

The woman at the entrance told me I’d need to be in the water for at least 45 minutes to notice the benefits, and I saw immediately that the other bathers took this rule seriously. A large clock faces the spring, and I marked my time as I stepped in. The water is naturally buoyant, and I moved easily, without tiring. Soon I fell in line with a trio of Russian men, one with a halo of white hair on a chartreuse noodle and one who stabbed the air as he spoke. I strained to make out his words, catching only “Fort Myers,” “Medicare” and “Putin.”

“Da,” the other two men agreed with him. “Da, da.”

Farther along in my loop, I passed a clutch of babushkas bobbing in the water, tittering between themselves. Another woman swam up to join them, and one of the women passed her a noodle.

“Spasibo,” she said.

It’s hard to miss the spring’s feeling of health and vitality. One woman stood in the grass doing stationary jumping jacks as I made my first circuit. On my second round, she performed gentle knee bends. Many people wore thick streaks of zinc oxide on their faces, and I was one of the only women without a hat. Although children are allowed, there were none during my visit. This is a serious swimming hole.

When I’d reached my 45 minutes, I climbed out of the water and headed back to my chair. I felt surprisingly invigorated. Sitting on my chair, drying in the sun, I listened to a woman in a white bathing cap as she swam slowly past, singing in Russian. The words were lost on me but the song had a sweet, melancholy tune. I closed my eyes and listened to the melody as it overlapped with fragments of Russian conversation and the gentle slap of water, thinking about all the unexpected marvels of this state.

 

If You Go…

Be sure to bring: a picnic lunch. The facility doesn’t offer much in the way of food. Although coolers are not allowed, you can make trips out to your car to carry in provisions.

Don’t forget: to remove your silver jewelry. My bracelet and toe ring tarnished in less than two minutes.

Consider: opting for a monthly pass. If you’re going to be near North Port, the springs make for a nice part of a daily routine.

Ask about: spa services, such as massages and pedicures. The center used to offer a full spa menu, but in the change of ownership last year these disappeared. Word is they’re coming back.

Warm Mineral Springs
12200 San Servando Ave., North Port, FL 34287; (941) 426-1692,
cityofnorthport.com

 

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