Old Bellamy Cave

 

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Disclaimer: All diving in the park is being done under a special permit from the Department of Natural Resources. No recreational diving is permitted. Cave diving is a dangerous activity and should not be attempted without highly specialized training and experience. In particular, the caves in the park are deep and dark and even trained cave divers require extensive experience in these types of conditions to safely deal with the hazards encountered in O'Leno Park. For more information on Cave Diving training, please contact the Cave Diving Section of the National Speleological Society or the National Association for Cave Diving.

The Santa Fe River begins in a lake Northeast of Gainesville and travels to O'Leno State Park north of High Springs.  There, it disappears underground through at least two swallets or sinkholes, one known as River Sink and another further upstream near Vincent's Landing .

The river then travels underground for about three and a half miles until it resurfaces again at the River Rise. The Santa Fe then continues through High Springs, Ginnie Springs, and finally empties into the Suwannee River. This area between the River Sink and the Rise has many sinks and ponds, the largest being Sweetwater lake. Unfortunately, they are normally filled with tannic water and have never been very attractive for divers.

One of the first people to explore this area was Woody Jasper who did several dives in River Rise starting in 1980. He was able to explore about 1200 feet towards the north, but the low visibility, about five feet, made it too difficult to continue.

Exploration into what would become known as Old Bellamy Cave first began in 1995 when a landowner asked Al Heck and Jerry Murphy to check out a dark, duckweed covered sinkhole on his property. The pair soon realized that they had discovered a major cave system. By early 1999, with the help of Woody Jasper, Mike Tennant, and Jason Richards, the cave had grown to three separate entrances and over 10,000 feet of explored passage.

As they explored the cave system, they also mapped the submerged tunnels. Soon they realized the cave was heading closer to O'Leno State Park where it might connect to the underground portion of the Santa Fe River that runs 3 1/2 miles between the River Sink and River Rise. Connecting this cave, essentially an underground river, to the River Rise would help explain the contribution of additional water to the Santa Fe from sources other than River Sink.

In October 1999 a permit was granted by the Department of Environmental Protection to explore Sweetwater Lake and River Rise in an attempt to connect Old Bellamy Cave with O'Leno Park. The dive team, including Brett Hemphill, Michael Poucher and Alex Warren, began exploring and in January 2000 made the connection between Old Bellamy Cave and Sweetwater Lake.

Ironically, the connection was only 10 feet from a line placed on a previous dive, but in the large passage and dark water of the cave, the explorers passed right over the connection without realizing it was there. Exploration towards the River Sink has continued and we have worked our way north connecting the various sinks.  Al Heck and Cindy Butler began dives in Ogden Pond and found passage heading east.  Subsequent dives with Brian Williams explored passages out of Pareners Branch and the connections are tantalizingly close.

As of 2007, the cave system has grown to over 50,000 feet in length making it one of the longest caves in Florida. Exploration continues....

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