As I pulled into the car packed lot, I wondered where everyone was. There seemed to be so many cars, but no one in sight. Only a small visitor center with one or two employees sat on the edge of the property. Other than that, there was only a blocked off street that led off into the forest. The park had been dubbed a “Wildlife State Park” and I was curious as to what that actually meant. As I entered the building, I was pointed to said street and told that a tram would come to pick me up soon. As I boarded and it carried me away, I couldn’t have been prepared for what an amazing trip I would have.
After a short drive, I got off and walked down a short path, not long before I was greeted by a hippo swimming in a pond that was adorned with alligators sunbathing around the rim. A park ranger sat and told the story of Lu the Hippopotamus. Years ago, this park was a privately owned wildlife park that resembled more of a zoo. When the state gained control of it, all the non native animals were to be moved to other locations. That meant Lu would have to go. The town loved her so much though, they begged for her to stay and this pond became her forever home. That story gave me a little bit more of an idea of what to expect from the park. But was it just a zoo with only native species? I headed down the next path, excited to find an answer.
The path quickly opened up into an ornithologists dream. Everywhere you could see, different birds flocked together, eating, drinking or simply hanging out to their hearts content. Groups of brown pelicans swam in a pond while flamingos fought over who got the best area to catch some rays. The entire area seemed to be a waterfowl playground. i little deeper in, I noticed that everything started to become more zoo like, with cages popping up here and there along the side of the path. A few birds of prey, a red wolf, a florida panther. At each one that I saw a ranger, I inquired as to how the animal had gotten there. It turned out that all the animals on site could not return to the wild, most having been injured in some way, and now they each lived here as “ambassadors of their species”, allowing locals and tourists alike to learn about how vast of an ecosystem the state actually has outside of humanity.
I spent most of the day at the park, walking the 1.5 mi trail multiple times, trying to get as many shots as I could. There were so many cool animals and even though the setting was not quite wild, their ability to walk around freely led me to feel like I was in a fantasy world. If only we could live in harmony with these animals everyday, how great of a world that would be.
Closest Supercharger: Ocala FL 35.5 mi
4414 SW College Rd, Ocala, FL 34474
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
9350 W Fishbowl Dr, Homosassa, FL 34448
Down the road about fifteen minutes, the little town of Homosassa is a must stop while you are at the wildlife park, if for nothing besides a quick stop at Monkey Island. I had heard about this little park in the middle of the water, but didn’t realize how funny it would be to watch these monkeys hang out playing with each other. How did they get there? Originally the island was a rock cropping that boats bottomed out on way too often, so local G.A. “Furgy” Furgason threw up a lighthouse and added some dirt, thinking that would be the end of it. He was building the wildlife park down the street and was more concerned about a problem he was having with his monkeys harassing the visitors. One day, an idea struck him like a bolt of lightning. He could move the monkeys onto his river island and be done with the problem. Ever since then, we’ve had Monkey Island.
5297 S Cherokee Way, Homosassa, FL 34448