Local 6 Theme World: New future for historic Silver Springs
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January 24, 2013
New Future For Silver Springs
Here's a place I haven't been to in ages, but must get to soon. Just to say farewell to one of Florida's original tourist attractions: Silver Springs in the Ocala area.
Governor Rick Scott & the Cabinet have approved a state takeover for the struggling attraction. That will lead to a bright future -- but a big change in direction for a park that has been drawing crowds since before the Civil War.
But the real start came in the 1870s when the first glass bottom boat set sail on the crystal clear waters.
The good news -- those cruises will continue at Silver Springs as it becomes a state park. The park really came into its own in the 1930s when a colony of rhesus monkeys were introduced. Unfortunately -- they quickly multiplied and are now wild all over that part of the state.
Silver Springs became famous as a backdrop in movies like the old Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies starting in 1932.
The six Tarzan films are among dozens of films that have filmed all or in part at the park since 1916.
Others include "Rebel Without a Cause" & such cinematic classics as "Smokey and the Bandit 3" and "The Creature From the Black Lagoon"
Despite entering the public consciousness -- and really taking off in a serious of gorgeous post cards in the 40s....
the park started struggling in the early 1970s when a certain Mouse roared into Lake Buena Vista -- and almost overnight reshaped the patterns of tourists who suddenly seemed to forget places like the old Silver Springs.
After changing hands several times, and trying everything from a water park to a jeep safari, the state of Florida bought the land in 1993 as a way of preserving it from development, then leased it back to private companies to run. That is very similar to the deal that saved Cypress Gardens from demolition in 2003. And that is why even today, those gardens remain the heart of LegoLand Florida, and cannot be touched.
And preservation is what the state takeover is all about. Current operator Palace Entertainment will spend the next six months tearing down asbestos-laden buildings from the 50s, and finding new homes for its exotic animal attractions and rides. It will spend $4 million in exchange for being let out of its lease. Silver Springs will say goodbye to life as a tourist attraction
And hello to its future as the newest state park on October first. One of the reasons it has struggled, is that runoff from the attraction has clouded the once-famous crystal clear waters and white sand bottom. Environmentalists hope the change to state park -- and the demolition of most of the attraction - will help return it to its pristine condition.
A piece of Florida history. If you want one last chance to see it as a tourist attraction, the current Silver Springs is offering half-price admission to Florida residents.
Here's a link to previous Theme World entries.