Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida has been a tourist destination since the late 1800's when Hullam Jones invented the first glass bottom boat out of a dugout canoe. Tourists could then view the underwater scenes where fish, turtles and crustaceans thrived in the crystal clear water below the spring. They even discovered fossils dating back more than 10,000 years.
Soon, the spring and the land surrounding it may be managed by The Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks (DPR) with the proposal to add Silver Springs to their state park lands. The current lease holder has stated its intent to end its agreement with the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (Trustees). This may result in DPR assuming management of the the property as part of the state park system.
Silver Springs has an interesting and illustrious history. In the 1930's, Ross Allen founded the Silver Springs Reptile Institute that developed and imported life-saving snake venoms, six Tarzan movies, starring Johnny Weissmuller, were filmed on location at the springs and the operator of the Jungle Cruise boat ride, Colonel Tooey, released wild rhesus monkeys on an island in the Silver River that escaped and formed wild troops in the area.
When improvements were made to the glass bottom boats by adding gasoline engines and comfortable cushions for guests to sit and view the mysterious world under the water's surface more people began to visit the springs. The largest growth in tourism came in the 1950's when the number of guests at Silver Springs were counted at 800,000 a year and by then the glass bottom boats were run by quieter, more eco-friendly electric motors.
The drafted interim management plan ensures the park will remain open to guests with as little disruption as possible while improvements and changes take place. The plan will encourage the return of the area to a more natural primitive state while still allowing public recreational access. While non-essential improvements and facilities will be removed (such as the Jeep Safari, animal exhibits, petting zoo and amusement rides) DPR plans on continuing or beginning:
- Glass bottom boat tours
- Concerts and special events
- Wild Waters park (water park)
- Swimming, canoeing and kayaking
- Hiking and nature trails
- Interpretive programs about the park's natural and cultural resources including the region's water resources and efforts to protect and restore them
To learn more about the DPR's plan read the document draft at tinyurl.com/a2sadaa. Visit the Silver Springs Nature's Theme Park website for more information about the attraction.