Location: Silver Springs, Florida
Years Active: 1878 – 2013
Silver Springs is a group of artesian springs that feed into the Silver River in Marion County, Florida. It is the largest artesian spring in the world and the site of the oldest commercial tourist attraction in Florida, and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971. Its main features are the glass-bottom boat tours on the river, which have operated there, in various forms, since 1878. (The oldest and only remaining operational boat is the ‘Princess Donna’ built in 1934. Still in operation today but in Dunnellon FL.) Long privately owned and operated, the springs area was formerly the site of a small amusement park, Silver Springs Nature Theme Park.
Developed in the late 19th century, the springs became a tourist destination for Northerners. It changed hands several times over the years, with various operators introducing boat rides and building related attractions of varying scientific and entertainment quality. It was first used as a location for a Hollywood film in 1916, and was a frequent location for the series of Tarzan films in the 1930s and into the 1950s. Beginning in 1993, the first thorough scientific studies of the springs were conducted and wildlife rehabilitation was started. That year, the State of Florida bought the underlying land, while private businesses continued to operate the attractions and concessions.
Environmental issues such as nitrate runoff, related to development in the region, adversely affected the park’s health and tourist revenues declined. On January 23, 2013, the Florida Cabinet announced the state would take over the facility after the end of the 2013 summer season, and that the park operators would receive a $4 million buyout of their lease. 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.