When we were in Ocala, FL a couple weeks ago for a friend's wedding, we stayed right down the road from Silver Springs Park. I had caught wind that the park, once privately owned and a huge tourist attraction, had been taken over by the state in late 2013. I was curious to see how much had changed since the switch-over, but hopeful that I'd still be able to recognize the park of my childhood and have the chance to share some of those memories with Taras.
(at 20 weeks!)
I wasn't fully prepared to see all the changes that had happened to the park. An amusement park that was once bustling with families and young children who were anxious to ride the jeep safari, pet the giraffes, and watch animal shows, now seemed to be more of a nature park filled with senior citizens. I found myself fully overcome with nostalgia for what the park once was, even wishing we had visited last summer so I could have one last childhood-like experience.
Don't get me wrong - the park is still beautiful. The trees, birds, turtles, and springs are still worth a visit. Taras didn't have any emotional ties to the place and he had the best time! And I'm hopeful that many parts of the park that are currently blocked off will someday reopen as nature trails, which would make a trip to the park even more enjoyable.
One classic feature of the park remains: the glass bottom boat ride. A boat driver navigates through different parts of the springs and tells of the area's rich history (there's a good summary on wikipedia). One fun fact about the park is that a lot of movies have been filmed at the springs over the years, including many of the original Tarzan movies (the park was once owned by ABC).
So many birds and turtles and fish! Taras was in heaven. We found out the previous morning that we're having a little boy, so I spent much of this morning at the park thinking about how fun it'll be to experience these things with a little one. Especially if said little one gets as excited about wildlife as his dad does. :)
Do you see that fish in the air? These fish were going crazy - it seemed that every minute another one would jump up!
A new feature of the now State Park is that the public can come into this springs area with kayaks, canoes, and boats. The springs connect with the Silver River, giving the public a lot of land and water space to use and enjoy.
When we visit next, we'll jump in the kayaks and get a look at the park from a different perspective!