Newton Perry knew he had found something special when he first set eyes on the spot the Seminoles had named "Weeki Wachee" or "Little Spring."
The first magnitude spring, which discharges 170-million gallons of crystal clear water every day, had been an impromptu dumping ground. Perry, who had trained underwater demolition teams during World War II, cleaned out the old rusted refrigerators and began experimenting with diving equipment.
Newt, as Perry was known to his friends, taught some local girls to do aquatic ballets while breathing off air hoses under 20 feet of water and people lined up to have a look.
Most Floridians are familiar with the Old Florida amusement park, which opened in 1947, went through some hard times and now is operated by the Florida State Park Service.
But the river that flows from the springs is one of the best-kept secrets on the Gulf Coast. This pristine waterway is ideal for entry-level paddlers or families with small children. But experts can design a trip as easy or as challenging as they wish.
Exploring the river is a lot easier now that the state has taken control of the park. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Paddling Adventures rents canoes as well as single and tandem kayaks and offers transportation back upstream.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
UPDATE: The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, was a top-of-the-scale EF-5 twister with winds of at least 200 mph.