Silver Springs State Park
|Silver Springs State Park|
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
|Governing body||Florida Department of Environmental Protection|
Silver Springs State Park, formerly known as Silver River State Park, is a Florida State Park located on the Silver River in Marion County. The park contains Silver Springs, Florida's first tourist attraction.
The Silver Springs attraction dates to the 1870s. In 1985 the state purchased the land surrounding Silver Springs to spare it from development, creating the Silver River State Park. In 1993 the state acquired Silver Springs as well, though it continued to be operated privately. In 2013 the state took over control of Silver Springs, merging it with the adjacent parkland to create Silver Springs State Park.
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In 1985, the State of Florida purchased approximately 5,000 acres of undeveloped land around Silver Springs to keep it from being developed. The land was turned over to the Department of Recreation and Parks in 1987, creating the Silver River State Park. The same year, Marion County Schools constructed the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center on the property. There was little else at the park until 1999, when the state began construction on a ranger station, campground, and kayak launch.
In 1993, the state purchased Silver Springs with the ultimate intention of taking it over. The previous owners continued to operate the attraction under lease. It went through several operators before Palace Entertainment took over management of "Silver Springs Nature Theme Park" in 2002. In January 2013, after years of declining profits and increasing environmental problems, the state took over control of the park, releasing Palace Entertainment from their obligations. The same year, they merged Silver Springs into Silver River State Park, creating Silver Springs State Park.
Among the wildlife of the park are nine-banded armadillos, white-tailed deer, wild boar, wild turkey, foxes, American alligators, Sherman fox squirrels and gopher tortoises, as well as coyote, bobcat and Florida black bear.
There is also a colony of non-native rhesus macaques which were introduced to the park in early 1938 by a tour boat operator, known locally as "Colonel Tooey," to enhance his "Jungle Cruise" ride. A local legend that they are the descendants of monkeys used to enhance the scenery for the Tarzan movies that were shot in the area in the 1930s is not true, since no Tarzan movie filmed in the area featured rhesus macaques. The diversity of this waterway is among the highest in Florida. Since becoming part of the Florida State park system the increased interest and reduced barriers to entry have brought many new visitors to the park. The damage to the river grasses and wildlife is a real concern.
Recreational activities and amenities
Glass-bottom boats are located within the park and are based at the site of the former Silver Springs Nature Theme Park.
Other activities include bicycling, canoeing, kayaking, camping, and wildlife viewing. Amenities include a museum and an environmental center that are open on weekends and major holidays. The park has 15 miles (24 km) of trails, access to the Silver River, ten luxury cabins, and a 59 site, full facility campground.
There is a Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center with educational facilities, run by the Marion County Public School System in cooperation with the Florida Park Service. The center has a village of restored or "newly built" 19th-century farm buildings (houses, meeting house, sheds, blacksmith, etc.) and a museum on the natural and social history of the area. Used during the week by the school district for classes, on the weekends it is open to the public. One week, early in November, the center also puts on the Ocali County Days as a fund raiser. This is a 19th-century, living history event with displays, talks, and performances incorporating living historians. For that Tuesday through Friday it is open to public, private and home school-age children and their teachers who have made reservations with the center. The event is open to the general public on Saturday and Sunday and has become a popular annual attraction in the area.
The park is open from 8:00 am till sundown year round. The gate remains open until 10:00 p.m. on Fridays for campers.
- "History". www.thefriendsofsilverriver.org. Friends of Silver River. 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2014.
- "State control of Silver Springs attraction looks increasingly likely". Ocala.com. Retrieved 2016-06-18.
- Thompson, Bill (January 13, 2013). "State lets Palace Entertainment out of Silver Springs lease". Star-Banner. Retrieved April 8, 2014. (Registration required (. ))
- Stone, Rick (January 24, 2013). "Silver Springs, Oldest Florida Tourist Attraction, Will Become A State Park". wlrn.com. WLRN. Retrieved April 8, 2014.
- Boning, Charles R. (2007). Florida's Rivers. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-56164-400-1.
- "Park's Hours and Fees | Florida State Parks". www.floridastateparks.org. Retrieved 2016-06-18.
- "Ocali Country Days". Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
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