By Mike Steely

Silver Springs, Florida, is about eight hours south of Knoxville and a long day’s drive. There’re lots of places to stop to eat or stretch along the way. Once you get through the nightmare known as Atlanta traffic the drive becomes pretty routine.

If you haven’t been to Silver Springs in the past few years, or if you’ve never been, the former tourist attraction and amusement park has changed. Five years ago the state of Florida took over and the former amusement park rides are now closed. The best part of the park remains and is well worth the $8 bucks per car or $5 per motorcycle admission to get into the natural wonder.

We visited recently and found the crystal-clear springs that bubble up from the earth there were as active as ever, the wildlife and plants still doing very well and even the alligators seemed to enjoy the warm Florida sun. Back home in Knoxville the temperature was in the teens with light snow but, after an initial day of cold, northern Florida bounced back to the 70s.

Silver Springs is on Highway 40 just east of Ocala. It seems the two towns run together now as Ocala spreads out with a growing senior citizen population. The park is now divided into two sections with the traditional park to the north and a new equestrian center and camping to the south.

We discovered that years ago during segregation there was a separate location just downstream called “Paradise Park” which was for African Americans only that offered much of the same attractions and was operated by the same company that owned Silver Springs.

If you’re a movie or television buff you may want to walk through the park to the Sea Hunt shed where that long-running show was filmed. The springs were also featured in many movies including “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and various James Bond underwater shots.

There’s also hiking, bike and horse trails, a museum and gift shop, picnic pavilions and wildlife just about everywhere you look. There’s no fishing allowed in the park but you can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle out beyond park limits to fish. The south end of the park features RV camping, camping cabins that sleep up to 6 people, and horse trails for those people who bring their horses.

Silver Springs was named a National Landmark in 1971 and is one of the largest freshwater springs in the nation. Twin Oaks Mansion in the park is available for weddings, banquets and meetings.

There are lots of places to stay while in the area including motels, campgrounds, retreats, and bed and breakfast homes. You can get information on line at The state park is open every day from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.