Unrealized excitement expanded inside of me as my destination grew closer. Memories from my visit the previous year fostered a sense of longing that I rarely experience. The more I travel, the more I am amazed by things and returning to a place I have been before doesn’t happen that often.
Yet sometimes, a place leaves such an imprint on your memories that it always stays with you, locked in your mind and accessed on a melancholy day when spirits need to be lifted. There is a certain sense of magic about these places. One that is rarely created and even more rarely experienced twice.
Today, I had the opportunity to return though and I simply couldn’t be more excited. Homosassa Springs was getting closer and I was bursting at the seems with anticipation.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is, it its simplest sense, the most amazing zoo I have ever come to discover. When I think of zoos though, images of big concrete cages lined with laughable attempts at adding water or foliage for an ambience reflective of a natural habitat fill my head. Usually, they are accompanied by semi-sickly looking animals and an under budgeted staff that wants to care, but doesn’t have the heart to anymore. Generally speaking, it is a rather sad state of affairs that keeps me away.
Here though, those images couldn’t be further from reality. Open aired pathways are sandwiched between freshwater springs, inviting birds from all around to bathe in the waters. Pelicans swoop down from above to mingle with friends as flamingos sunbathe to their hearts content in the bright Florida rays.
Along the edges of the park are open cages lined with animals in various stages of rehabilitation. This is where more of a zoo feeling may take over, but at the same time, a well funded and caring staff is ever present to show these animals are being taken care of. Most are injured birds or mammals that were found in the local communities. In need of medical attention, they would have been left to suffer on their own in the wild if it were not for the park and its staff.
Having been nursed back to health, many are forever kept in safety there, as releasing them would mean certain doom for most. This provides a way for locals to have a connection with the animals that would be thriving in the areas if it weren’t for humans. With that connection, more dedication to the local ecosystem is able to be fostered along with better funding. If only this approach could be taken more often throughout the country, maybe we would have a better local human/wildlife connection than the majority of our cities/states have.
The history of the park goes all the way back to the early 1900’s when trains stopped to let passengers walk to the first-magnitude spring as the local fisherman loaded up the cars with the day’s catch. throughout the middle of the century, the park enjoyed its status as the home of trained animal actors when they weren’t working in Hollywood. In those days, a more exotic group of residence stayed on the grounds ranging from trained monkeys to Lu the Hippo, who is currently the only non-native that still lives on site.
In the 80’s the state obtained the property and now with the opportunity to start funneling tax dollars through the area, established the rehabilitation/wildlife status that the park enjoys today.
I took the path away from the crowds and headed towards the area of the park dedicated to the spring. Around the next corner, a huge lagoon opened up in front of me and I watched groups of White Ibis’ flock from tree to tree. A small overlook reached out over the water inviting me to come gaze through its crystal clear waters into the depths below.
Immediately, I could see schools of giant fish darting about underneath, unconcerned with the world going on about the surface hanging over them. Along the edges, turtles lazily laid about basking in the hot sun. The emerald green lining on their shells reflecting like a beam reflected from a child’s magnifying glass. Two giant manatee swam throughout the groups, boisterously making room for themselves, all but unaware of the obstacles laying in their path. At the surface, they found delicious algae to munch on as they enjoyed their swim.
While walking along the waters I suddenly heard the cry of a young bird calling out in hunger. The loud screech could be heard throughout the entire park. A constant annoyance begging to be satisfied. Looking up, I saw a Blue Heron nest in the distance with two chicks inside.
I was immediately astounded by the sight as the mother reached its beak inside its child’s to feed it. Often animals, especially ones that aren’t mammals, get pushed into a category that prevents us from being too empathetic with them. That is until you see them with their young. Instantly, a connection between species is created and one can almost forget that we are so different. Children always seem to have that effect.
As the sun began to set and I drove away from the shore, I couldn’t help but bask in the newly created memories I just made. There will always be something special about this area of Florida. Often forgotten as it isn’t the touristy draw the rest of the state is, it holds more of the hidden gems than I can find anywhere else.
I am already thinking about my return to Homosassa and the new memories it may bring. Until then, these pictures will be a highlight of my collection.
Closest Supercharger Ocala
4414 SW College Rd, Ocala, FL 34474
Hamosassa Springs Wildlife Park
4150 S Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa, FL 34446