Original Fla. Theme Park to Become State Park
Silver Springs, the Ocala, Fla., attraction that has been drawing tourists since the 1800s, will become a state park in October, following $4 million in changes that will remove exotic animals and amusement rides.
Its famous glass-bottom boat rides, which started there in 1878, and the popular concert series will remain, but several exhibits and structures will be dismantled to convert the attraction into a more natural park. The park will remain open during the transition, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Meanwhile, state environmental officials plan to spend $1 million to reduce pollution, which has harmed water quality of the springs. The changes are in the works after the Florida Cabinet this week approved termination of the private lease with Palace Entertainment, the California leisure park company that has been running the attraction since 2001.
Silver Springs follows the fate of Weeki Wachee Springs, a historic attraction famous for its underwater "mermaid" show that was privately run before becoming a state park in 2008.
Turning over Silver Springs to the state "is in the best long-term interests of the park, its guests, the local community and the state," said Mike Friscia, vice president of water-park operations.
"Silver Springs is a wonderful place but simply did not fit into our core business and it was time to move on in the most positive way possible," he said.
Steamboats in the 1860s brought tourists to the springs, which became famous for its crystal-clear waters. It was a popular destination for families driving down to Florida in the era before the interstate highways were built and it was the film site for several television and movies, including some of the original Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller.
However, attendance dropped with the advent of the interstate highway system and the Orlando theme parks. In 1993, Florida officials bought Silver Springs but continued a lease management of the attraction.
State officials said the 2004 hurricanes caused costly damage and a big drop in profit margins there and the current economic downturn sapped those profits.
As a state park, Silver Springs will continue to have the glass-bottom boats, the water park, the concert stage, the antique car exhibit and the formal gardens.
However, to make it more like a state park, the exotic animals, jeep safari, Kids Ahoy play land and rides will be removed. Also, the state will set up swimming areas and a canoe and kayak launch will be added and will restore natural habitats.
State environmental officials also plan to spend $1 million to reduce pollution ruining the spring water. One imminent project will redirect treated wastewater away from the spring boil.