Our first stop was Silver Springs, Florida's first tourist attraction. Suffering from the Disney-effect, it is now a "ghost attraction".
It hasn't attracted tourists for years. A huge parking lot designed to hold 10,000 cars had six last Saturday morning.
As a kid, I had gone there with my family to marvel at fish swimming beneath our glass-bottom boat. Sixty years later I was having this thrill again.
The spring's natural beauty still amazes at a bargain price ($4 entry, $10 boat rides).
Growing up in Miami, white folks would enjoy the ocean in Crandon Park. Across Bear Cut we could see black people on their beach, Virginia Key.
Similarly 65 years ago, people of color were given
a sliver of Silver Springs when they opened Paradise Park on the south side of the springs.
REVENGE OF THE PEOPLE
A lack of tourists (of any color) isn't its only problem. Once the world's largest artesian spring, it was still producing 550 million gallons of crystal-clear water daily in the early 80's.
Now the flow is half that. Locals withdraw more water than the springs can produce due to increases in population, agriculture and ranching. If this continues, scientists predict Silver Springs will be dry by 2025.
It gets worse. Over the last 30 years pollution has reduced the fish population by 92% and increased the algae biomass 3700%.
Despite impending doom the day we were there Silver Springs was beautiful. I hope you can visit before it goes dry.
The state bought the place last year and it is now "Silver Springs Ghost Park" (okay, I substituted "ghost" for "state"). An optimistic ranger told us they will slowly remove the theme park buildings and restore the 5000 acres to its natural condition.
Can they restore the water? That depends on our elected officials in Tallahassee who are much, much scarier than ghosts.
REVENGE OF THE CREATURE
Twenty miles South of Tallahassee, it's where they filmed Creature From the Black Lagoon in the 1950's.
Trouble was, heavy rain had pushed tons of dark swamp water into the spring rendering it...black.
The creature got its revenge. We passed on the swim and all glass-bottom tours were cancelled.
Historical note: The creature was played by South Florida film director/underwater stuntman, Ricou Browning. We asked him to be the Grand Marshall of the King Mango Strut 20 years ago but unfortunately he had a scheduling conflict.
If you'd like to,
1) See a 3-minute clip of the Creature swimming in the spring with the woman of his reptilian dreams, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=ariuokNFhSw
2) Help save Silver Springs, visit www.floridaconservationcoalition.org
Next, we'll be moving on to Florida's "Forgotten Coast"...