Suwannee Springs Park Locks Guests Inside

Atlantic Beach, Fla. Three women with ten children between them were locked inside the Suwannee Springs Park near Live Oak, Fla. last Thursday evening.

They responded to the caretaker’s ‘twenty-minute warning’ when he wandered to the river’s edge and reminded all park guests of the 7:00pm closing time.

We spoke to one of them after the incident.

“We gathered up our things and proceeded to our vehicles,” said Jeanne Marie, who preferred not to give her last name.  “We were managing the kids and packing the cars with our gear.”

Jeanne Marie remembers hurrying, and the other women doing the same.  “We respected the closing time, like we would anywhere.  We were doing our best to pack things up, change from wet bathing suits, and drive out of there.”

The park caretaker, an unidentified man, ambled about the area, muttering.  One of the children from the group had gone into the temporary sanitary facilities to change into dry clothing.

“That man kicked at the door with his foot,” the boy’s mother, another of the women involved in the event remembered, “He yelled menacingly at my son, frightening him.”

Jeanne Marie was not aware of this.  She recalls just hurrying everyone to get the car packed up in order to drive out by 7:00.

“He could see that we were in the process of leaving.  There was no doubt we were on our way out of the park within a few minutes,” she said.  She helped another friend toss things into the back of her mini-van, in an effort to comply with closing time.

It seems that their efforts were in vain.  When the first of their three car caravan reached the gate at 7:04pm, they were greeted by this:

“We were incredulous,” Jeanne Marie told us, “that man actually locked the gate with us inside the park.”

Unable to fathom such a thing, Jeanne Marie approached the gate to inspect it closer.
“It was locked all right, ” she recounted, “double padlocked, in fact.  That man purposefully locked three women with ten minor children inside a county park.  We are from the Jacksonville area, close to one hundred miles away. We were stunned that he would do such a thing.”

Gobsmacked, the women stood outside their cars, wondering what to do.  Moments later, a fourth vehicle, a truck, pulled up behind them.  Jeanne Marie spoke to the occupants, a young woman and her mother in bathing suits, with a small  child in the back seat.  Jeanne Marie explained their predicament.

“The woman told me she planned to drive through the woods, around the gate.  I was concerned about this, as there appeared to be no path, and plenty of trees and underbrush to impede the movement of our 2-wheel drive vehicles.”

The woman, a local person, had no time for such concerns.

“I ain’t waitin’ for no police to show up.  I’m takin’ my truck thru and this ain’t no 4-wheel drive, neither,” she told Jeanne Marie.  “Y’all can follow me through.”

Jeanne Marie remembers feeling uneasy about the plan as the woman proceeded to bust her way through the woods.  “At one point her truck got stuck, but she gunned it, burned some rubber, and did make it out to the road.”

Jeanne Marie was still unconvinced that her own citified mom-van would perform like a truck and was deeply concerned about taking the risk.  Another of the women in their party offered to go next, while the woman in the truck had gotten out and together the four of them tromped about the woods to identify some sort of pathway.

There was no pathway.

The ten children, in the meantime, thought it was a great adventure and helped themselves to snacks and drinks, the older ones proffering useless ideas of their own of how to break out of Suwannee Springs park.

One of the women in their group, driving a Nissan Sentra decided she would make a try for an escape through the woods.  She did not have the same success as the truck.  She got stuck about halfway through and there was no moving it from there.

The woman with the truck offered to push her truck into the car, in an effort to release it, but Jeanne Marie said no, and that is when she called 911.  The woman with the truck appeared to want to rough things up a bit.  “She told me it was a new truck and she wanted to push my friend’s car out of its stuck position.  She was pregnant, smoking and willing to get aggressive on our behalf.” Jeanne Marie declined her offer.

It appears the 911 operators were waiting for this call, as they seemed to know exactly what had happened. Jeanne Marie recalls they told her, “M’am, the park closed at 7:00pm.”

This was when she became angry, Jeanne Marie said, “I told them that the caretaker could plainly see that we were making every attempt to comply with closing time.  It’s not like we were ignoring him, still swimming in the river or lounging on the beach.  We were hastily packing our cars and herding children.  He could see that.  I told them that our first car reached the gate at 7:04pm and found it locked, and would they please send help.”

Jeanne Marie and the other women could not believe this had happened.  “Who does this?” they all wondered in disbelief.  Two of the women experienced the caretaker’s disagreeable tone of voice as they were packing up; he was blatantly hostile when he kicked the door to the ‘port-a-potty’ and yelled at an eleven-year-old-boy who was changing, inside.

While waiting for Suwannee County Sheriff’s deputy to arrive, the ten children became restless, accidentally stepped on fire ants, and were beginning to feel afraid as the night came upon them.  One of the members of their party needed to use the ladies’ room, so she called for privacy and squatted on the side of the road.

“I won’t out her, ” laughed Jeanne Marie, “but she clearly underestimated the slope of her chosen area.”  It seems her stream of urine flowed like Suwannee River, in front of her and across the entire road, instead of discreetly behind her and absorbed into the dirt, as she intended.

To kill time and keep the children from becoming afraid, Jeanne Marie made them line up for a photo to commemorate their predicament.

When the Suwannee  County Sheriff’s Deputy arrived with keys in hand, he was genial and blase about the incident, Jeanne Marie reported.  She, on the other hand, was incensed that a park official would actually lock guests inside, ostensibly to be stranded all night long.  “I hate to play the ‘women and children’ card because it’s just not right no matter how you look at it.  He had guests who were obviously making every attempt to comply with closing time.  He could see that.  He could also see that we were three women with ten children between us, and the chaos involved in wrangling the bunch into the vehicles.  He was there, witnessing the entire situation. I didn’t even notice the fourth car,  who were also two lone women with a child, until they pulled up behind us at the gate.”

“He obviously did it spitefully, ” Jeanne Marie stated.  “I’ve never heard of such a thing.  I mean, think about it.  If you’re shopping at Nordstrom and it’s 9:00pm, do they lock you inside the store all night long?  Or Wal-Mart, for that matter?”

Suwannee Springs Park is located in a remote area where cell phone reception is spotty.

Another curious part of the incident is that the park caretaker had slipped an orange notice under the windshield wiper of the truck, but made no attempt to give it any of the three women or place it onto their vehicles.  Jeanne Marie believes he did not do this because he could see they were within minutes of departing and were already loading their vehicles.

It was only after the truck made it out and the Nissan Sentra got stuck and they were waiting for the Sheriff and AAA to come that Jeanne Marie approached the truck, snatched the orange paper from the woman’s windshield wiper and read the notice herself, which only exacerbated her anger over the situation.

“If he’d at least given us the notices, it would have saved us from feeling lost and panicked, and my friend would not have taken her car into the woods in an effort to escape.  We could have simply called the number provided on the notice to ask for our release,”  she explained.  “I don’t know why the woman in the truck didn’t grab it and read it herself but she didn’t.  I only noticed it on her windshield after she’d made it through the woods and my friend was stuck.

Jeanne Marie finds it curious that the ranger did not provide them with any idea as to how to get out of the park.  She thinks that the woman in the truck was probably not at her vehicle like they were,  just before closing time.

“He knew we were complying, just a few minutes late,” Jeanne Marie told us. “He could have handed us the notice so we’d have known who to call to get out. I suspect he did not because he knew he was walking the fine line between a rigid 7:00pm closing time, and common courtesy.”

Jeanne Marie says they all had a great time at Suwannee Springs Park.  “Suwannee Spring is surrounded by an old stone structure and used to be quite a popular tourist destination back in the days of the Civil War. The kids had a great time jumping into the spring.  Me, I couldn’t take the odor, though.  It emits an intense sulphur smell.”

On the other side of the wall and over a hill is the Suwannee River.  The river was warm, with a sandy beach and bottom and made for great swimming, Jeanne Marie explained.

“It’s tannin-colored, so dark the kids called it ‘swimming in Coke’.

It’s a weird sensation, opening your eyes under water and seeing just black in front of you.  It was a great river for swimming; the kids swam back and forth, climbed rocks and swung from a rope swing. We had a good time there.”

“It was just so surprising to be locked inside like that.  I’ve never experienced such a blatantly unsympathetic person; locking us in was simply a hostile thing to do.  However I must say that the Suwannee County Sheriff’s deputies that we dealt with were very helpful and friendly.”

Jeanne Marie doubts they’ll visit Suwannee Springs Park again.

“We’ve been making day trips to various locations around Florida and have experienced some wonderful springs and rivers, ” she concluded, “I’ve recommended many sites to friends and groups because Florida has so many hidden jewels to experience. “

She won’t recommend this park to friends.

“Why risk it?” she mused.


  1. Nick Lulli says:

    This "citylifer" will take the risk sometime in the near future, upon his return to the First Coast.

    However, he doesn't usually close the park out, like the "beachlifer" does.

    He goes early, with a kayak.

  2. bermudabluez says:

    It does look like a great park to visit, but I believe that the caretaker was a bit unfair and should not have locked those people in….they were doing what he asked! I wouldn't have wanted to stay overnight in a minivan with ten kids…would you? Unbelievable!

  3. Sammi says:

    If they were only 4 minutes after closing then the guy must have locked the gates before 7.

    What an idiot. I'd have picked the padlocks… not that I know how to do things like that.

  4. Shellbelle says:

    I may sound unsympathetic, but the caretaker probably faces this often. His shift is over and he wants to get home. If you're somewhere, anywhere with 10 kids in tow, the lesson here is to respect the closing time and give yourself plenty of leeway. However, he should NEVER have gone near the port-a-potty, that was completely uncalled for, the adults were at fault here, not the child.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good nite Jeannie! What great blog fodder. Reminds me why I left Jax in the 70's and moved to Northern Ca. HICKS!!!! We do have some beautiful spots here though. You know as kids growing up here we used to drink sulphur
    water, some people outside city limits had it in their homes.
    Glad you din't mess up your beach Mom van.
    Enjoy your summer, and please tell Nic NO HURRICANES.
    Back in Jax but left my heart in Ca.,

  6. mcat says:

    The kids will have something to write about when they go back to school and the teacher asks them "What did you do over your summer break?"

  7. Janet Nix says:

    Yes, you should have left earlier. Yes, the guy should have waited and escorted you out. He was mean, plain and simple. I’m sure he isn’t a state park ranger, probably some guy Suwannee River Water Management District(SRWMD) hires part-time. Suwannee Springs is the state’s step-child it doesn’t get the attention and funds that it deserves to hire professionals. It has a fantastic history not many people are aware of. Visit my facebook page and view the historic photographs.

  8. LAURA says:

    I think it’s a shame that this happened.
    I understand that this man’s shift was over, however, how would he have felt if someone did this to his children, or grandchildren?
    I also have to think about our economy. The county has to pay for fuel for the Deputies. Wouldn’t it be more cost efficient for him to wait 10 minutes than to send someone all the way out to re-open the gate?
    I would think that the notice on the windshield stating the park closes at a certain time, is for those who go kayaking or canoeing, and don’t return until way after closing time.
    I will say I am impressed that you all made this situation into an adventure.

    • loulou4646 says:

      Just wanted to warn anybody that goes to this park that you are being watched from the moment you arrive by (joe johnston) gain warden weather it is by video tape or by him.They got quiet a set up there in that park…We (hubby and myself) were fined 700.00 and had to appear before the judge this past month due to both being charged for possession of alcohol.I explained to johnston that we were camping at suwannee river and thought we were there riding our golf cart and that we didnt know we were not at suwannee anymore (we had never been to this park before) but he didnt care to hear anything we had to say because he was more about making revenue i suppose so needless to say we were both charged with possession i had an open beer in my hand and 1 beer in a small bag unopened tried to tell him my hubby doesnt drink but he didnt care to hear that either so we paid a big price for accidentally wandereing into that park…This man is heartless and is out to get you if he can so please beware…

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