It’s like a fast-food drive-through, right in Saratoga Spa State Park.
But instead of dishing out juicy burgers and crispy french fries, the State Seal spring runs clear water for the taking.
On a typical day, cars pull up, people hop out with plastic bottles, set them under the spigots and wait.
There are no charges or restrictions, and the people who go there are likely to say a friendly hello or strike up a conversation with their fellow water gatherers.
Jeanne Wiley of Saratoga Springs thinks of the ritual as similar to women meeting at the ancient wells of the Middle East, filling their jugs to bring water to their families.
“There’s a sense of you’re drinking the water that comes from the land that you live on,” Wiley said.
Some people bring a car trunk full of bottles, and a few hoist 5-gallon water jugs that fit into water coolers.
On a warm afternoon, bicyclists pull up to top off their water bottles.
The State Seal spring, long considered the most coveted of the city’s spring waters for its lack of minerals and sweet taste, is never without action for long.
While springs like the Hathorn, Geyser and Coesa were prized for their reported medicinal qualities and carbonation, the non-carbonated State Seal was prized for, well, tasting like water.
That’s still what draws people to the spring.
“It tastes better than the stuff that comes out of the tap,” Wiley said while filling up plastic jugs.
Karen Boone won’t drink her tap water in Wilton, preferring to fill up gallon jugs at the State Seal spring about every three weeks.
“You can taste the chlorine in it,” Boone said of her tap water. “I won’t even give it to my dog or my cat.”
The water’s source is also called the Ferndell spring, and was bottled under the name State Seal at the Bottling Plant, now the home of the Saratoga Automobile Museum, from 1935 to 1970.
In 2002, the Joseph L. Bruno Pavilion above the spring opened. Its six taps run continuously, all year long.
Maria Baj of Saratoga Springs shows up in all weather to fill 20, gallon glass wine jugs for her drinking water. “We drink it every day,” she said.
She keeps the extra water in her basement until it’s needed, and shares some with her daughter in Pennsylvania when the two visit each other.
Baj has waited in line to get the water during busy times.
There are unwritten rules at the spring for those times, Wiley said. People who bring several bottles to fill may take two taps.
But take more than that, and others will frown upon it. “That’s kind of funny,” she said. “There’s kind of this local ethics.”
Out-of-town visitors also stop by the spring to taste its water.
On Tuesday morning, Paul and Lynn Berman of Syracuse and Tillie Berman of Boca Raton, Fla., stopped by the pavilion to see what the fuss was about.
In their years of traveling to visit Paul and Lynn’s daughter in Ballston Spa, they hadn’t tasted the water at the State Seal.
“We didn’t plan on this,” Paul Berman said, adding his mother Tillie wanted to see the park.
When the trio realized they had no spare water bottle in the car to collect water to sample, another man at the spring gave them one of his gallon bottles.
“I’m a big bottled water fan,” Lynn Berman said, adding she was interested to try the spring water.
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