Jul 102020

Note: This is a repost of a blog from 2015 about one of our favorite Florida destinations.

On our first RV trip to Florida years ago we visited the wonderful Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and we’ve been back several times, and liked it as much as we did the first time.

Homosassa Springs has been a tourist attraction since the late 1800s, thrilling visitors with exotic animals and native wildlife as an animal park under a series of owners. In the early 1900s, the Silver Springs, Ocala and Gulf Railroad Company ran an extension line from Dunnellon to Homosassa, opening up trade and tourism to the area.

The train included a steam locomotive, mail car, two passenger cars, and a flatbed car, and made a daily round trip from Homosassa via Crystal River and Dunnellon to Ocala. The flatbed car carried cargo lumber and building materials, and wooden barrels filled with salted mullet from Homosassa to Ocala, and became known as the Mullet Express. There were also whispered rumors that during Prohibition, some of the barrels actually carried moonshine to a thirsty market. The train stopped at the park to allow passengers to see the wildlife while the cargo was being loaded before re-boarding for the trip home.

Ivan Tors Animal Actors provided trained animals for many movies and television shows, one of the most popular being a bear named Buck, who was Ben in the 1967-1969 television series Gentle Ben, set in the Everglades. When they were not performing in movies or on television, the animal actors lived at Homosassa Springs and performed for visitors.

In 1989, the property became a State Park and a refuge for injured animals, ranging from bald eagles to manatee. Officially called the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, the park showcases native Florida wildlife. Visitors can see and photograph manatees, black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, alligators, crocodiles, birds, and coyotes. Wheelchair accessible walkways meander through the park, making access easy for all visitors. All along the park’s paths, there are frequent benches for resting.

Rangers and park volunteers give educational talks on the park’s animals several times a day to introduce visitors to the many species of wildlife to be found in Florida and explain the challenges they face from loss of habitat, pollution, and other changes to their environment.

The most popular of these are the manatee programs, which are held three times a day. Manatee are the most popular animals at the park, and at any given time the park is home to a dozen or more that are there for rehabilitation for injuries, often suffered by strikes by boat propellers. During the winter the manatee population swells as more come in from the ocean seeking warmer water.

Another popular place is the Reptile House, which is home to all matter of critters, from snakes to baby alligators. During our visit, a large crowd was gathered in front of one display, fascinated as they watched a rattlesnake shed its skin.

There are several bird exhibits, including burrowing owls (top) and crested caracara (bottom). This guy had just caught a fish for dinner.

When we saw this eagle on our first visit years ago it was a youngster that had lost a wing after being shot. It was nice to see it has recovered well and adapted to life at the park.

All of the animals at Homosassa Springs are native to Florida except for one; Lu the hippo. An African hippopotamus, Lu was part of the Ivan Tors Animal Actors that wintered at Homosassa Springs when it was a privately-owned attraction. He appeared in the 1960s movies Daktari and Cowboy in Africa, and in several television shows. When the state took over the park they planned to move him to another facility, but Lu was so popular that a public outcry went up, and instead, he was officially made a Florida resident by a proclamation from the governor. Probably the most popular animal in the park, Lu, who turned 60 this year, even has his own Facebook page! Just be sure to stay out of his “splatter zone!”

The park has an active children’s education center, providing hands-on experiences. School groups from all over the state come on field trips to learn about Florida’s environment and wildlife.

The park has a picnic area, two gift shops, and a café with a selection of beverages and snacks. When you visit, check the Ranger Programs for a list of interactive events throughout the park each day, and plan at least three to four hours to tour the park, though it could easily be an all-day experience. Why rush when there is so much to see and do?

Located at 4150 S. Suncoast Boulevard (US Highway19) in Homosassa, Florida, the park is open every day of the year from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Admission is $13 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 through 12, and children 5 and under are admitted free. Parking is limited to passenger vehicles. Larger RVs would find access difficult. For more information on , call (352) 628-5343 or visit their website at https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/ellie-schiller-homosassa-springs-wildlife-state-park

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for campground reviews, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing, please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – Remember, you can always walk away. The game ends when you stop playing.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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