Ch-ch-ch-changes! (I think I just aged myself there haha)!
Spring Hunting on the Silver River
The boat glided across the water, the dark green sea grass below giving way to a turquoise blue hole. A jagged crack sliced through the floor of the river bed. Tiny white balls bounced from the hole like a snow globe gone wild. A two-foot garfish lingered over the crack and a school of mullet raced past in a mad flurry.
We had reached the spring known as the abyss. A diver was sent into the crack years ago to measure the depth. At one point he had to remove his air tank and push it in ahead of him to get through the narrow gap. He managed to travel a mile in depth before running out of line and being forced to return to the surface. There was more of the cavern left unexplored.
The 5 miles of the Silver River contains about 120 natural springs. The monster 1st Magnitude Mammoth Spring, the head spring, and the largest artesian spring ever discovered, spits out an average of 550 million gallons of fresh water daily. They even bottle it! You can actually drink Silver Springs bottled water.
The smaller springs, like Star Spring and Popcorn Spring all come with their tales, best heard, like the abyss story, in the comfort of the glass bottom boat. There are other springs along the river only accessible by personal watercraft.
Recent Changes in Silver Springs State Park
But it was upon this past visit that I noticed the numerous changes taking place in the park:
- Admission fee, once $8 per vehicle collected in the parking area, has now dropped to a more comfortable $2 per person. The ticket booth in the parking area was removed and the original guest services entrance is being used as the new ticket office. Kayak/canoe launch fees are $4 per boat in addition to park entry fee.
- There is a new path to the canoe/kayak launch area within the park. Just follow the sign beside the bridge to Ross Allen Island. The trail follows the canal. It makes for a great short cut if you are renting their watercraft. For your own personal paddler launch, it’s easier to use the entrance at the far end of the parking lot, which you can drive to unload your boat.
- There’s a new nature trail. Located in the east end of the park, past the Bear Picnic Pavilion is the new Creek Trail. I suspect they are still in the process of building it, as there was garbage skip at the trailhead overflowing with building scraps. This trail follows the old jeep safari trail and may afford a better chance at spotting the Rhesus monkeys that hang around that end of the park by the water.
- The Ross Allen Island Boardwalk is completed and good for a stroll around the former swampy home of many a reptile. An insider told me there are plans to construct a bridge from the island across the Fort King Waterway (the former Jungle Cruise Run- now Paddle Trail) to connect with the Blue Hiking Trail of the Silver River Portion of the park.
- Your $2 park entry fee is also good for the Silver River hiking trails area. Once called the Silver River Park, it was also acquired by the Florida State Park system. Just keep your receipt and drive around to the other entrance on 58th Avenue (1445 NE 58th Ave/Baseline Rd, Ocala, FL 34470). The River Trail is our favorite trail there, as it leads to a boardwalk by the river.
- The parking lot exit has changed as well, and now you are directed to leave on the same road as you came on, out to Highway 40/Silver Springs Boulevard.
If you visit Silver Springs, be sure to check out the Springs Eternal Project- located adjacent to the gift shop. There you will find a collection of photos of various Florida springs through the years. The changes between then and now are certainly eye-opening!
You still have to purchase your glass bottom boat ride tickets and kayak/canoe rentals at the gift shop inside the park.
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