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Splashing at Salem's freshwater spring
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The freshwater spring at the intersection of Salem and, the appropriately named, Spring roads was a source of drinking water for travelers for more than a hundred years, and is one of the main reasons the annual Salem Campmeeting occurs where it does.

Today, it's more commonly a place for adults to enjoy a scenic picnic, children to splash around and young couples to "court," said Sam Ramsey, sixth generation campmeeting-goer. He promised those couples were only going there to talk and, possibly, hold hands.

Ramsey met his wife, Becky, at the camp, but never courted her at the spring; he bought her a 5-cent Coke at the local stand instead.

"I thought she was a pretty cheap date," he said. Don't tell her he said that.

There's a security light at the spring now, and some have accused Ramsey of trying to do away with courting. He denies any such motives.

"It just provides a little bit of light, so people don't cause mischief," said Sam, alluding to vandals as opposed to teenagers.

The truth is, though, Ramsey was once an unintentional vandal himself. Just five years old at the time, Ramsey was riding his bike down the path to the spring when he tried to stop and his tires slipped on the sand. Though he managed to jump off and remain unharmed, his bike kept going and ended up breaking one of the three small concrete columns at the park's entrance.

Last year, he was able to make amends during the restoration of the spring's park, placing a plaque where that column used to stand.

The spring's water flows at a constant 65-degrees, which doesn't sound all that cold until one jumps in. A small, shallow pool was built to provide a play area for children, who take turns dunking their heads in the deepest part of the pool where the water streams in.

The spring flows at a constant rate of 30 gallons per minute, said Ramsey, and when the state tested the spring's water quality several years ago, officials said it was some of the cleanest water they'd ever seen.

"People still come down to the spring to get water because they think it's good for them," Ramsey said. However, he didn't know of any mystical legends surrounding the water, though he didn't doubt it could be good for some ailments. No lepers were seen at the pool Saturday.

The camp hasn't used the spring for drinking water in about 30 years when the county extended water service to the grounds. The old pumphouse and tank still stand and Ramsey can remember when the campers would leave the pump working, so that the tank would actually overflow, ensuring plenty of water for the next day.

From the days when the spring hydrated wagons full of campers, as well as the horses and mules that pulled them, to today's version when it simply entertains children, Salem's gurgling freshwater remains an integral part of the campmeeting experience.