Silver Springs opens as a new state park
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.
Jon and Lora Zedick woke up well before dawn on Tuesday and drove from Orlando to be part of the official opening day at Silver Springs State Park.
If you go
The fee to enter Silver Springs State Park, which now incorporates the former Silver River State Park, is $5 for one person in a vehicle or on a motorcycle, or $8 for up to eight people in one vehicle. Entrances are located at 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd. and 1425 N.E. 58th Ave. The fee is $2 for pedestrians or bicyclists. Visitors can pay the fee at one entrance and then go to the second entrance with a receipt. Hours are 8 a.m. to sundown. For more information, call 236-7148.
They were the first visitors to enter the park, which came into being when the operation of the property was turned over to the state recently. The property had served as a tourist attraction for decades.
“It's not often you can come to the opening of a state park, so we decided to come up. We love our state parks. We're state park pass holders,” said Jon Zedick, who last visited the park on a school field trip when he was 10.
He and his wife have camped in the adjacent former Silver River State Park, which has merged with the new park. The two properties will be known singularly as Silver Springs State Park.
Donald Forgione, director of the state's parks, which number more than 170, said the Division of Recreation and Parks, which is part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, tries to balance the natural state of the parks with activities.
“We know this is still an attraction. We have the glass bottom boats, but we try to keep that in balance with the health and wellbeing of the nature surrounding it,” Forgione said.
To that end, part of the iconic entrance to the park has been changed.
For years, as visitors entered the park they crossed a boardwalk that spanned a seemingly flooded swamp teeming with alligators and turtles. There were even vending machines with turtle food. As it turns out, it was mostly a setup.
“They would artificially flood that and stock it with the turtles. When they changed around some of the drainage, this area was blocked off. We'd like to return the natural drainage so it acts like a real swamp again, which go through times of wet and dry,” Forgione said.
Also gone were the turnstiles and the bright red and white lighthouse ride that took riders up 80-feet for a panoramic view of the headwaters.
In fact, most vestiges of the attraction's other features were also gone.
Shops at the park were empty, but there are plans for those to reopen soon with vendors and even restaurants.
One thing that was put back into operation was the fountain at the entrance of the park. There were also kayaks available for rent.
Forgione hopes to soon have a tram available to shuttle visitors from the headsprings area of the park to the former Silver River park area, where there is a museum, various exhibits, camping facilities and access to miles of trails.
Tola and Emil Hass were the second visitors to enter the park Tuesday. They said they were curious to see the changes.
“We haven't been here in a while, maybe three or four years, now we're going to try it again,” Tola Hass said.
As with most of the visitors to the park, she was excited to ride the glass bottom boats.
Vessamae and Lewis Poole were regular visitors to the park. Their last visit before Tuesday came a few days before the park closed for the transition in mid-September.
Vessamae Poole said she always remembers Johnny Weissmuller when she comes to the park.
“I met that man twice in my life,” she said.
Weissmuller portrayed Tarzan in the movies of the 1930s and '40s. Six of the movies were filmed at Silver Springs.
The headwaters of Silver Springs have drawn tourists for about 150 years. The state bought the land in 1993, but allowed its operation to continue through a succession of private companies. Earlier this year, Palace Entertainment reached a deal with the state to be let out of the lease to operate Silver Springs. Palace agreed to pay $4 million to the state to help pay for removal of certain attractions.
The overall plan for the park is for it to serve as an ecotourism destination as well as a cultural and historical site.