The Best Florida State Parks, Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is one of the most unique state wildlife parks you will find anywhere in the country. In addition to having the beautiful ambiance that you would expect from a state park in Florida, the park also provides a safe home for some of the most interesting wildlife you will ever see. 

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And the fact that it’s just 20 minutes from the Villages of Citrus Hillsmakes it easily accessible for our residents and a place you’ll want to visit over and over and bring your family and friends when they come to visit. 

Wild Florida animals like black bears, Florida panthers, cougars, red wolves, bobcats, Key deer, alligators, gray fox, and otters all reside within the park’s boundaries. The park is also a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned West Indian manatees, which reside in the freshwater spring that forms the beginning of the Homosassa River. This is one of the only places in the world where visitors have access to underwater views of West Indian manatees on a year-round basis. 

History of the Hommassa Springs Park

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The Homosassa Springsarea became a tourist attraction in the early 1900s when trains that were passing through would stop to let passengers rest. What is now Fishbowl Drive was once train tracks. 

In the 1940s, the site was purchased and made into a private wildlife attraction. One of the major attractions at this time was “Nature’s Giant Fish Bowl,” which was a three level observatory. 

The site was then sold again in 1964 and expanded into an even bigger private wildlife attraction that featured alligator shows. During this time, Lucifer the hippopotamus arrived at the park and has since become one of its most popular residents of all time. 

After changing ownership a few more times throughout the 70s and 80s, the site was acquired by the Citrus County Commission in 1984 in order to protect the area. The park is currently owned by the state of Florida and is a highlight of Florida's Nature Coast region.

Throughout its fascinating history, the park has also been home to a number of famous trained animal actors, including Buck the Bear who was a stand-in for Gentle Ben from the popular 1960’s TV show of the same name. The park was also the location for Bob Moreland’s award winning photograph of an alligator biting a “No Swimming” sign. 

Wildlife Park Educational Programs

One of the most popular attractions at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park today are the educational programs that are conducted by park rangers on a daily basis. 

The Manatee Program takes place at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm everyday. Visitors are given a brief overview and history of West Indian Manatees. The presentation includes showing visitors manatee bones, explaining the importance of the rehabilitation efforts that are conducted at the park, and an explanation of the tracking system that is used for the manatees. Visitors are then able to view the manatees from the Fish Bowl underwater observatory, or from a number of other locations around the park. 

The Wildlife Encounters Program takes place every day at 10:30 am and at 2:30 pm. This program is different each time, as it focuses on one species that is native to Florida. Some examples of featured animals are birds of prey, opossum, gopher, tortoise, and even snakes. The ranger or volunteer conducting the program will give a short overview of the animal’s background and diet, and then visitors are encouraged to ask questions. 

The Alligator and Hippopotamus Program happens once a day at 12:30 pm. During this program, visitors will receive background information on the history of the American Alligator. Then, they are introduced to the park’s African Hippopotamus, who just so happens to be an honorary citizen of Florida. 

Event Facilities for Family Events, Wedding Anniversaries and Reunions 

Another popular reason for visitors to venture to the park is for family events. The park contains a beautiful garden gazebo located in the “Garden of the Springs.” There are also locations that feature the Homosassa River as a backdrop for events. The park contains two outdoor pavilion areas that are available for family gatherings, as well as the Pepper Creek Terrace for indoor receptions. 

Homosassa Springs State Park also offers Pontoon Boat Tours, Bird Watching Locations, Hiking and Nature Trails, Picnic Areas, and a full service restaurant.

With all of the amenities available, this park is the type of place that as a resident of the Villages of Citrus Hills you can visit many times without ever running out of new things to explore.

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