The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, to give it its full title, is a collection of Florida’s native wildlife in an unspoilt environment alongside the clear springhead. Located 47 miles west of Leesburg on the FL-44, it is a great place to visit with children, as there are many exhibits of native Florida animals. There are black bears, red foxes, bobcats, alligators and white-tailed deer for visitors to get a close look at from the elevated boardwalk.
First stop should be the Visitor Center, and it is well worth lingering to see the displays rather than rushing through to the “live” exhibits. It has a superb exhibit of migratory birds seen in central Florida. The history and development of the town of Homosassa from the early 1900s is also shown as part of the informational storyboards.
Admission to the state park ($13 for adults and $6 for children aged 6-12 in 2012) includes a boat trip on one of the flat pontoon boats which can carry you from the Visitor Centre along the shallow waters of Pepper Creek to the wildlife park itself. As part of the trip, the ranger gives an informative talk about the wildlife and helps identify herons, egrets, fish, turtles and other creatures as you travel slowly along the sparkling clear river.
Check out what time the various programs will be taking place and take your seat at the special area to enjoy one of the Wildlife Encounter Shows. This ranger-led program introduces visitors to gopher tortoises, opossums, birds of prey and indigenous snakes. The Alligator and Hippopotamus Show highlights the diet and facts about alligators and also explains how this state park came to have a resident hippo. You can also learn why this former film and TV star is an Honorary Florida Citizen!
The big attraction at Homosassa Springs is the manatees, which gently float around in the clear spring waters like bloated balloons. It is a real thrill to spot them, often munching lettuce heads thrown to them by the rangers, as they are vegetarians by nature. The best time to see manatees in Florida’s warm springs is in winter, particularly after a cold night. These mammals normally spend the warmer months feeding around the coast of Florida and up into the Carolinas, but when cold nights set in, they head for the safe warm waters of the natural springs that can be found around coastal Florida.
The Homosassa Springs State Park has a floating observatory which visitors can go down into and see the manatees in their fish-bowl-like pool. Wild manatees can also be seen in the Blue Waters area, along with fish, turtles and other wildlife. Homosassa Springs is not only a safe refuge and home for these wild creatures, it also has a rehabilitation facility for the slow-moving manatees that are frequently injured or killed by boats. Such is their vulnerability that they are now an endangered species.
Bird spotters will enjoy the Pepper Creek Birding Trail and information on this and other trails that make up the Great Florida Birding Trail are available from the Visitor Centre. Enjoy your day!
Villages books link
Checkout my book about great days out in Central Florida from the Villages, available from Amazon.com
or download the ebook version here
Days Out in Central Florida from The Villages