Gilchrist County Resident Nicole Ashley’s house is shaking.
Boom, boom, boom. It’s past midnight and the county noise ordinance says 10 p.m. is the cutoff for loud music.
A mile and a half down the road, Ginnie Springs, a privately owned recreation and camping area is hopping. DJs from all over Florida are winding up the crowd. Light shows and loud music don’t have to end until midnight according to the Ginnie Springs rules on their website. Contrary to the local 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. noise ordinance, Ginnie Springs park rules state that “Quiet hours are from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. No excessive noise at any time,” is the rule inside the gates.
But residents and other guests at the springs are speaking up about what is going on. Ashley is a sixth-generation Gilchrist County resident who has lived close to Ginnie Springs for 33 years.
“While Ginnie Springs has always been hard to deal with because of the crowds and loud music and noises, since the virus it has been so much worse,” she said. “We call Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office almost every weekend but it never helps.”
In order to get help with the situation Ashley launched the Facebook group “Citizens for Holding Ginnie Springs Accountable.”
“Invite everyone you know who lives in the area close to Ginnie, or in Gilchrist, or your family and friends. We have to build this group up and come together to make some NOISE of our own!,” she announced on the page.
That page launched on July 27th, a day after a weekend-long DJ event featuring EDM (electronic dance music) that drew hundreds of fans from as far away as Miami and Savannah, Georgia, according to Orlando-based DJ hobbyist Brad Diard, who said he was told not to hold an event by Ginnie Springs but showed up anyway along with two dozen other acts.
According to the park rules: “Ginnie Springs is not a music venue or event destination,” and the message on the business line says that they will only admit groups of 10 or less.
Local law enforcement says they don’t patrol Ginnie Springs because it is private property. But Gilchrist County Sheriff (GCSO) deputies do direct traffic and stay by the gate.
“Four months ago all parks and beaches shut down,” GCSO Capt. Scotty Douglas said. “When the parks opened and the beaches stayed closed down, these people are driving from Miami to Gilchrist County.”
Capt. Douglas said nothing will change unless Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “shuts these down.” Until then, he said Ginnie Springs is allowing hundreds of guests in and “stacking them in like cord wood.”
Ginnie Springs acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic on its website, “While visiting, please practice social distancing. Please, no groups larger than 10 guests.”
But the photos and videos posted by visitors on social media show dozens and hundreds of people dancing and floating in huge groups down the river with no social distancing or practice of CDC recommended standards.
According to Florida Department of Health (FDOH) Administrator Wesley Asbell who is based in Gilchrist County, “All we can do is recommend,” he said about the CDC standards. “We have conveyed our concerns to the County,” he said. “It’s a county decision on large gatherings, crowds.”
“The whole world thought Covid was over in May,” he said. Ginnie Springs opened back up on May 1st after a shutdown.
“The county would need to do an order to prohibit those events,” Asbell said.
Douglas said he was directing traffice last weekend (July 24 -25th) and had to turn 200 cars away. He said he put up a sign and drivers would say ‘Hey we just drove eight hours from Miami.'”
According to Douglas, Ginnie Springs is patrolled by staff rangers. “We have deputies there but they stay at the gate,” he said.
The only time law enforcement enters the park is if they get a 911 call, he said.
A neighboring resident shared a post from the GCSO’s Facebook page to the Facebook group page.
“On July 9, 2020, at approximately 11:55 p.m., Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call regarding a female screaming she had been raped by a male subject that was chasing her. Upon the arrival of GCSO deputies, the 17-year-old female victim was found in and out of consciousness. Two additional females were found unconscious at the same Ginnie Springs campsite and needed medical assistance as well. The suspect was contacted and identified on scene. All the parties had traveled to Ginnie Springs together from Naples, Florida.
During the investigation of the incident, it was found EMANUEL CORREA HERRERA had sexually battered two of his female companions after they had consumed a brownie, containing an unknown drug substance.
On July 17, 2020, an arrest warrant was issued and signed by Judge James Colaw for EMANUEL CORREA HERRERA for the charges of three counts of Sexual Battery, one count of Attempted Sexual Battery, False Imprisonment, and two counts of battery with a $945,000 total bond. EMANUEL CORREA HERRERA was interviewed and arrested by Sgt Stalvey and Deputy Trent Freeman on July 20, 2020. EMANUEL CORREA HERRERA was booked into the Gilchrist County Jail on the issued warrant.”
“This is just the most recent lawlessness going on at Ginnie,” the resident stated. “We have personally called many times to complain of loud music and speeding traffic on dirt road in front of our home. Have contacted several county commissioners… all the same response. Ginnie Springs pays lots of taxes in our County … no one wants to rock the boat or go up against them.
“Tired of this nonsense and so much disrespect for our end of the county. No one should be above the law no matter how much money they put in our county.”
Another post shared that on May 30th a Jacksonville man was arrested for aggravated battery after a fight broke out at a Ginnie Springs campsite. And 18-year-old was arrested and 19-year-old was sent to the Shands Hospital and ended up in the ICU in critical condition.
Regarding traffic jams, one resident posted photos of more than 50 cars lined up waiting to get into the springs.
“I was trying to get to my father’s house to take him to the store,” she commented. “And my sister had to let me turn around in front of her so I could get to HWY 47 to get to my father. Not even a holiday weekend. Always tags from other countys not local people. The tags are usual Duval, Broward, Dade, Hillsborough and Brevard.”
The impact of Ginnie Springs is shared with Alachua County as well.
High Springs City Manager Joel DeCoursey said traffic issues and public safety is a concern. “We are aware of it,” he said about Ginnie Springs drawing crowds and traffic from all over the state. Some of those turned away at Ginnie Springs head to the County parks displacing locals.
DeCoursey said that people have reached out and “until the County (Gilchrist) cracks down,” nothing will change.
Citizens on the Facebook group are encouraging residents to reach out to local commissioners to and to show up at the Aug. 10th meeting at 3 p.m. to voice their concerns.
Contact information for the Gilchrist County Commissioners is here: https://gilchrist.fl.us/board-of-county-commissioners/
Commissioner Sharon Langford said she has been receiving calls about the noise at Ginnie Springs and confirmed that the current noise ordinance is from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. countywide.
One resident said she won’t even go towards High Springs on the weekend because of traffic jams created by out-of-town visitors drawn to Ginnie Springs for recent EDM events that included banned fireworks on the Fourth of July .
“It really is sad that as a life-long resident I can’t even enjoy life here anymore due to noise and traffic. Living next to springs has even more issues for us. We have fences torn down and trespassing. What once was a great place to live has now become a hell hole every weekend since Ginnie was developed. It is just getting worse.”
To join more than 100 other members of the “Citizens for Holding Ginnie Springs Accountable” visit here:
(Mainstreet Daily News will continue to reach out to the owners and staff at Ginnie Springs who are not answering the phones.)