Silver Springs is often called the gateway to the Ocala National Forest, the second largest, most southern National Forest east of the Mississippi. The springs feeds into the Silver River, a 5 mile stream that flows east from the springs to the Ocklawaha river. Silver Springs State Park combines the charm of a historic Florida attraction with the crystal clear beauty of one of the last uninhabited spring runs in the state.
Silver Springs of Marion County in central Florida is the largest and one of the most well known of Florida’s first magnitude springs, with average discharge of over 550 million gallons per day.
Humans have lived in the Silver River and Springs area for at least 12,000 years. Native American hunting artifacts discovered in the Silver River area include knives, scrapers and projectile points. The area was known as Ocali and was part of the Timucuan cultural region. Several ancient dugout canoes can be observed at the bottom of the river and spring.
In the 1820s, the springs became a tourist attraction for adventurous visitors who poled their way along the narrow stream through overhanging cypress and Spanish moss. With the invention of the paddlewheel, Silver River and Springs became a distribution center for Central Florida. Plantations growing vegetables, tobacco and oranges sprang up along the banks as nearby Ocala grew. In the years right after the American Civil War, the springs began to attract tourists from the North via steamboats up the Silver River. Silver Springs gained national attention through journals and guidebooks, and became a mandatory stop on the "grand tour" of Florida. In the late 1870s, Hullam Jones and Phillip Morrell fixed a piece of glass in the bottom of a rowboat and a new enterprise began. Silver River's glass bottom boat tours have been world famous for more than 100 years.
Ocala natives, W. Carl Ray and W. M. "Shorty" Davidson, bought the land around the Springs in 1924. They incorporated improvements for the tour boats, adding gasoline engines in 1925. In 1932 the glass-bottom boats were equipped with electric motors. Ross Allen, a noted herpetologist, opened the "Ross Allen Reptile Institute" on some of the land near the head of the Springs. It attracted thousands of tourists to the site for many decades. The Springs were the location for filming of Tarzan the Ape Man, featuring Johnny Weissmuller. During the 1930s and early 1940s, five more Tarzan movies were filmed at Silver Springs. In the 1950s, Creature from the Black Lagoon and the television series, Sea Hunt, were filmed there.
In the 2000s, the springs began to exhibit problems associated with modern development affecting many springs in Florida; fertilizer runoff and septic outflow contain nitrates, which resulted in the overgrowth of brown algae. Increased development in the surrounding area has drawn more water from the aquifer, resulting in a dramatic decrease in the volume of water from the springs. Since before 2000, flow dropped from 510 million gallons per day (mgd) to 346 mgd in 2012. The pollution had other adverse effects: a study concluded that the fish population decreased 90% compared to 1950s levels.
On January 23, 2013, the Florida Cabinet announced that the state would take over the facility after the end of the 2013 summer season. In October 2013, the State of Florida took over operations of Silver Springs Nature Theme Park and combined the property with the adjacent Silver River State Park to form Silver Springs State Park. Since that time, environmental mitigation programs have helped the spring return close to the pre-2000s flow, and cleaned the algae to acceptable levels.
In October 1971, the natural Silver Springs were declared a National Natural Landmark, recognized as a national resource. In 1973 Silver Springs started a wildlife rehabilitation program. At the park, you can see the headspring from a viewing deck, walk along the river on paved trails, see the ornamental gardens, and enjoy an easy stroll through the Real Florida. Visitors may also enjoy a meal from the restaurant with a view of the spring. The world famous Glass Bottom Boat Rides and canoe and kayak rentals are offered through our concessionaire.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, Florida Memory Project, Ocala/Marion County Visitors & Convention Bureau, SilverSprings.com, Wikipedia
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors