find refuge in the warm waters of Blue Spring
located at Blue Spring State Park, Orange City, Fla.
the mercury has risen this summer, Floridians have flocked
to one of the many state parks where water in the
crystal-clear springs stays right around a refreshing 70
tradition has been drawing visitors to the Sunshine State
long before Walt Disney turned a swamp into a tourism
Springs in Ocala is recognized as Floridaís oldest
tourist attraction. It first started drawing in visitors
in the late 1870s with its staple glass-bottom boats, and
eventually it became one of the most-visited pre-Disney
attractions. Rick Kilby, author of "Finding the
Fountain of Youth: Ponce de Leon and Floridaís Magical
Waters," says the glass-bottom boats, along with the
marketing skills of the former owner, helped propel Silver
Springs to popularity.
glass-bottom boat makes it so you have that incredible
view that you really arenít going to see anywhere else,
and I think that did contribute to some of the
popularity," Kilby said.
was around the 1930s that Silver Springs began attracting
the attention of Hollywood producers who used the natural
wonder as scenery in films such as "Tarzan,"
"Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "Rebel
Without a Cause."
big screen exposure likely caused the attraction to reach
a fever pitch in the 1960s when more than 1 million people
would visit annually. Popularity eventually waned and
pollution started to affect the area, so in 2013 the local
government stepped in and converted the oldest tourist
trap into Silver Springs State Park, one of the
"newest" state parks in Florida.
Wachee Springs in Hernando County shares a similar
history. Itís been attracting visitors since 1947with
enchanting mermaid shows. It reached its peak around 1959
and then in 2008 it officially became a state park. A man
named Newton Perry stumbled upon Weeki Wachee in 1946 and
although the spring was filled with old cars and
refrigerators, he saw its potential and decided itíd be
the perfect spot for a new business venture.
cleaned out the litter from the water then used his Navy
skills to develop underwater breathing hoses that wouldnít
require swimmers to wear a tank. Perry recruited beautiful
young women and taught them to use the hoses under water
and perform ballet and other routines all while sporting a
mermaid tail and a smile.
built theater seating into the limestone so the audience
would be able to see the mermaids as they performed
underwater, and by 1947 the attraction was ready to open.
In the early days the young women had to sprint toward the
road any time they heard a car coming so they could try to
lure in customers ó as would a siren ó but by the
1950s the spring was one of the most popular tourist spots
in the country.
it not been for the mermaid show, Weeki Wachee would be a
natural resource like any other spring Ö but it never
would have been a roadside attraction without the
mermaids," Kilby said.
mermaids are still flipping their fins for daily crowds,
plus the park also hosts river boat cruises and animal
a century before state springs had glass-bottom boats and
gorgeous mermaids to draw visitors in, it was natural
beauty and curiosity that attracted a woman named Sarah
Smith to Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee.
was in the 1850s that she found the bones of a mastodon at
the bottom of one of the springís basins, and as news of
that discovery spread during the years ecotourists made
their way to the area to get a look at the local wildlife.
to Wakulla Springs becoming a state park in 1986, the
spring was primarily owned by a man named Ed Ball, who at
one point was considered one of the most powerful men in
the state, according to Kilby.
wasnít in the big league with (other springs) partly
because of its location, but also Ed Ball, because he had
so much money, he didnít need to make it into something
that was hugely popular," Kilby said.
lodge and some other amenities were built, but in the
early days the spring relied on Henry the Pole Vaulting
Fish and an 11-foot-long alligator named Old Joe as
gimmicks. The park isnít as flashy as some of the
others, instead it relies on its vast underwater caves and
other natural wonders to bring visitors in.
De Leon Springs in Volusia County one of the main enduring
attractions is one that was built years ago out of
necessity. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill was built in the
1830s to crush sugar cane, but was destroyed in both the
Second Seminole War and the Civil War.
1961, as the mill was scheduled to be destroyed once
again, a man named Peter Schwarze decided to step in to
restore it and turn it into The Old Spanish Sugar Mill
Grill and Griddle House that it is today.
says one of the most appealing things about De Leon
Springs is its rich history; the pancake restaurant plus a
one-room museum at the state park serve as tribute to
a continuity of human inhabitance there that, to me, makes
it one of the most historic sites in Central
Florida," he said.
like the other springs around the state, De Leon added
attractions and gimmicks to capitalize on tourism in the
post- World War II era, which included Queenie the water
skiing elephant, a jungle cruise, circus performers and
other features that made De Leon Springs almost like a
contemporary theme park.
of those attractions are long gone, so itís the
make-your-own pancakes at The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill
and Griddle House that have arguably the biggest appeal
ó and yes, they are delicious.
kind of a quirky thing where you get to make your own
pancakes, itís fun for the kids to doÖ itís a real
kind of throwback activity that everybody loves,"
Kilby said. "Last time I went it was a two-hour wait,
but I waited."
are lucky to live in a place where the natural
surroundings offer limitless opportunities for
entertainment, exploration and education, but Kilby drives
home the point that without conservation efforts these
springs wonít sparkle forever.
be a real heartbreak to lose these places," he said.
"Thereís nothing like them anywhere else in the
world, there really isnít."
are more than 1,000 known springs in Florida, below is a
list of state parks that feature springs where visitors
can swim, canoe, kayak and more.
Spring State Park 2100 W. French Avenue,
City, FL 32763 386-775-3663 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Blue-Spring
Leon Springs State Park 601 Ponce Deleon Blvd.
Leon Springs, FL 32130 386-985-4212
Springs State Park 18020 N.W. Highway 19
Springs, FL 32693 352-463-3420 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fanning-Springs
Caverns State Park 3345 Caverns Road
FL 32446 850-482-1228 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Florida-Caverns
Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 4150 S.
Suncoast Blvd. (U.S. 19)
FL 34446 352-628-5343 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Homosassa-Springs
Springs State Park 12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
White, FL 32038 386-497-4690 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Ichetucknee-Springs
Blue Springs State Park 799 NW Blue Spring Road
FL 32066 386-294-3667 www.floridastateparks.org/park/lafayette-blue-springs
Blue Spring State Park 8300 NE State Road 6
FL 32059 850- 971-5003 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Madison-Blue-Spring
Springs State Park 11650 NW 115 St.
FL 32626 352-493-6072 www.floridastateparks.org/park/manatee-springs
de Leon Springs State Park 2860 State Park Road
de Leon Springs, FL 32455 850-836-4281
Skiles Peacock Springs State Park 18081 185th Road
Oak, FL 32060 386-776-2194 www.floridastateparks.org/park/peacock-springs
Springs State Park 19158 South West 81st Place Road
FL 34432 352-465-8555 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Rainbow-Springs
Rise Preserve State Park 373 SW US Highway 27
Springs, FL 32643 386-454-1853 www.floridastateparks.org/park/River-Rise
Springs State Park 1425 NE 58th Ave.
FL 34470 352- 236-7148 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Silver-Springs
River State Park 3631 201st Path
Oak, FL 32060 386- 362-2746 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Suwannee-River
Spring State Park 674 NE Troy Springs Road
FL 32008 386-935-4835 www.floridastateparks.org/park/troy-spring
Ball Wakulla Springs State Park 465 Wakulla Park Drive
Springs, FL 32327 850-561-7276 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Wakulla-Springs
Wachee Springs State Park 6131 Commercial Way
Wachee, FL 34606 352-592-5656 www.floridastateparks.org/park/weeki-wachee
Salt Springs State Park 8737 US Highway 19 North
Richey, FL 34668 727-816-1890 www.floridastateparks.org/park/werner-boyce