Florida’s Classic Attractions
Florida has always attracted visitors to its’ ocean beaches but, years ago, it also had an assortment of popular inland tourist destinations. Those old Florida attractions have been dying out, pushed aside or even replaced by theme parks. Unfortunately, history and gardens cannot compete with movie attractions, roller coasters and fantasies.
While Cypress Gardens once drew huge crowds, it was sold several years ago and replaced by a Legoland theme park. Silver Springs, on the other hand, has seen a revival under Florida State Parks’ new ownership and management. Of the over fifty natural springs in Florida, the largest by far is Silver Springs. The spring is pushing out five hundred million gallons of clear 72° water every day.
Since the mid-19th century, the natural beauty of Silver Springs has attracted visitors from all over the world. Glass-bottom boat tours of the springs began in the 1870s. In the 1920s, W. Carl Ray and W.M. “Shorty” Davidson, leased the land from Ed Carmichael and developed the area around the headwaters of the Silver River into a tourist attraction. The area eventually became known as Silver Springs Nature Theme Park. The attraction featured native animal exhibits, amusement rides, with 30 and 90-minute glass-bottom boat tours of the springs. Upon Carmichael’s death he left the springs to the University of Florida in his will.
In 1993, the state acquired Silver Springs from the University of Florida, with the on site concessions still to be operated privately. In 2013 the state of Florida parks took complete control, merging the springs with the adjacent parkland to create Silver Springs State Park. With reduced cost of admission and lower boat tour prices, the park has seen a steady upturn in popularity.
The main spring area has water depths that range from very shallow to over fifty feet deep with water so crystal clear it is difficult to believe you are looking at a bottom that far down. The spring feeds the Silver River that flows for three miles when it joins the Ocklawaha River in the Ocala National Forest. It than flows into the St. John River. The area is a wildlife preserve and home to dozens of species of fish, birds, alligators and manatees.
In its’ commercial days, Silver Spring also played host to a number of movie and television productions. It was home base for underwater shooting of Loyd Bridges’ Sea Hunt TV show, James Bond’s Moonraker and Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies. It also was the set for The Creature From The Black Lagoon and hosted a number of scenes from the movie Smokey And The Bandit.
In addition to a nice concession area and the glass-bottom boat docks, the park is a favorite for kayakers and features great hiking trails. The Florida Park Service is developing a number of new areas like a creative kids playground. It also plays host to concerts and a number of nature programs. Admission is only $2.00 with the boat rides being an additional $11.00.
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