Florida’s Silver Springs Nature Park is undergoing some major changes after being turned over to the state. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection now oversees the park, and has put more than $4 million into repairs and renovations for the site.
One of the biggest challenges in updating the park is balancing the department’s goals of environmental preservation with the public’s desire to maintain some of the existing attractions and overall culture of the park. Until recently, the park operated both as a nature park and a zoo for many exotic animals, including bears, emus and llamas. The removal of the animals was a decision by the state, choosing not to act as part of the zoo business. The only remnants of the park’s exotic animal era are the hundreds of rhesus monkeys that roam the park, now free from captivity.
The choice to remove the many animal attractions from the park in favor of a more natural, preserve type environment has been met with skepticism from tourists, many of whom have been coming to the park for years or even generations. Many patrons fear that with the removal of the zoo animals and other attractions, the park will not offer the amount of entertainment and will therefore be less of a draw to tourists. However, Marion County Commissioner Carl Zalak, who advocated for the public acquisition of the park, believes that it will be a renewed opportunity for eco-tourism. He also sees the park being used for activities such as swimming and zip-lining, and he hopes to open it for other attractions, such as car shows and festivals.