From our Park Manager - Sally Lieb
Answer to a frequently asked Question
Park staff and Friends who volunteer get lots of questions from Patrons who remember Silver Springs “attraction-era” when the Park offered rides, exotic animals, a water slide and other amusements. Here is a letter Park Manager Lieb recently sent in response to a patron’s recent inquiry which provides some history and rationale for the Park’s current focus.
Dear (Park Patron),
Thank you for writing to Governor DeSantis regarding your concerns about the changes at Silver Springs. We truly understand your sadness at the loss of the Attraction and water park that you hold so dear in your memory and heart. Every one of us reminisces about our best memories of childhood and want our children to experience those things. But as we all know, nothing ever really stays the same as it was. The circumstances surrounding the transition from the attraction to a State Park were similar to many other former Florida springs attractions such as Wakulla Springs in Tallahassee and Rainbow Springs here in Marion County. While back in the 1960’s through the 1980’s these enterprises were successful, over the years public knowledge about springs and sentiments changed, and they went from successful flourishing businesses to money losing operations.
I would like to take the opportunity to clear up some confusion about the circumstances of the changes here. The property around the springs including the water park were acquired from private owners by the State of Florida in 1992. The lease agreement with the private owners states that they were to prepare it for becoming a state park in 20 years. However, the lease with Palace Entertainment was renewed, even though that statement was there. Within a short time after the renewal, Palace Entertainment changed their minds and asked to be released from the lease agreement. The reason was that they were losing money. The business, as it was, did not succeed anymore. I can tell by your statements that you realized that it had become a “financial burden”. The state of Florida agreed, and opted to convert the property into a more sustainable operation.
Millions of dollars have been spent on this conversion process, and there is more to come. Weddings, reunions, birthdays and other special events were increasing in popularity from 2013-2020, when the Covid pandemic hit us all hard and we had to stop all group events for an entire year. We are starting to heal from that and events are beginning to return. The historic 1957 building will be renovated to remove toxic materials and overhaul the air conditioning. Once that is complete, the Gift Shop, educational rooms, café and sweet shop will be renovated and re-opened. The large event room at the north end will come back to life! The sweet shop will be designed in the theme of the 1960’s “soda fountain” style as part of our mission to honor the various historic operations at Silver Springs. We plan to further honor those memories with other exhibits and interactive displays that will help our visitors remember the early days, while at the same time protecting the spring. A hint of what will come can be seen now in the window displays that we have had in the Paradise Ballroom since the beginning of the pandemic. Perhaps you saw those when you visited.
Unfortunately, some of those past activities were damaging to the spring. Millions of gallons of water were removed from the River to feed the water park and the wild animals on exhibit. Once those waters were circulated through the wild waters pools and animal exhibits, they were filled with chemicals (in the case of the water park that was chlorine) and had to be sent off to waste water treatment facilities or worse, returned to the river, causing pollution to the river. While some of those chemicals and animal feces could be absorbed, the constant input of contaminants over time was causing damage to the spring water and the river.
Silver Springs former attraction area is 250 acres of the total 4,750 acres that make up Silver Springs State Park. The entire river is within the State Park. We now offer nearly 20 miles of hiking trails, 5+ miles of paddling trails and continue the glass bottom boat operations. All of those activities are very popular with our approximately 500,000 annual visitors. The paddling rentals and guided tours have exploded in popularity. We have 10 rental cabins and 59 campsites as well, and all of them stay full most of the time. Our prescribed fire program is bringing back amazing and rare native plants and animals so that visitors on the hiking trails can see the Real Florida as it was before Florida was developed. Although it is not what it used to be, Silver Springs State Park is still an amazing, unique place and worth visiting to experience the Real Florida. I hope you will give us another chance in the future with the thought that the goals and mission are different, but Silver Springs is still amazing and an experience you just can’t get anywhere else.
Best wishes and thank you again for taking the time to let us know your impressions and feelings. I hope my letter will help you to understand that our goal was not to take away from the public, but rather to give back something of Mother Nature that was truly lost over time.