Out There: Homosassa Springs State Park

By Grant Rice,
Last Updated: Friday, June 30, 2017, 3:58 PM EDT

Situated in Citrus county, Homosassa Springs State Park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900's when trains stopped to let passengers off to walk the short trail to the first magnitude-spring. The 50-acre site and surrounding 100 acres were bought in the 1940's and operated as an attraction.

In 1964, the Norris Development Company bought the property and expanded it as Homosassa Springs "Nature's Own Attraction," with an emphasis on entertainment and with a variety of exotic animals and some native species. Ivan Tors Animal Actors housed their trained animals at Homosassa Springs Attraction for several years. These animals were trained for television shows and movies. When they were not performing they were kept at Homosassa Springs.  One of the most popular of these animals was Buck who was stand-in for Gentle Ben in the famous television series. Lu, a hippopotamus, was one of the Ivan Tors animals and still resides at the park after being declared an honorary citizen of the State of Florida by then Governor Lawton Chiles. Norris owned the attraction until 1978.

From 1978 until 1984, the land went through several changes in ownership. The Citrus County Commission purchased the attraction to protect it as an environmentally sensitive area until the State of Florida could purchase the property as a Florida State Park. Modern thinking about captive wildlife has influenced how the park is now managed. Both visitor safety and animal welfare are of utmost importance at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Today, you can see a wide variety of both exotic and native animals inside the park. You can even take a walk underwater in the Fish Bowl to get a close-up look at the many fish, manatee and other aquatic species that call the springs home. They even offer wildlife encounter programs featuring snakes and other native species. The park also offers a children's education center where kid's can get a hands-on experience about Florida's environment.

The park is open year round from 9am to 5:30pm, expect to spend 3 1/2 to 4 hours to tour the park. The park entrance is located at 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. (US 19) in Homosassa. For more information, visit their website.

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