ELLIE SCHILLER HOMOSASSA SPRINGS WILDLIFE STATE PARK
Visitors can see West Indian manatees every day of the year from the park's underwater observatory in the main spring. The park showcases native Florida wildlife, including manatees, black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles, and river otters. Manatee programs are offered three times daily. At the Wildlife Encounter programs, snakes and other native animals are featured. Recreational opportunities include picnicking, nature study, and bird-watching. The park features a children's education center, providing hands-on experiences about Florida's environment. Transportation from the visitor center on U.S. 19 to the West Entrance is available by tram or boat. The park has two gift shops and a cafe with a selection of beverages and snacks. The park is open daily 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. The ticket counters close at 4:00 p.m. Located in Homosassa Springs on U.S. 19.
NATURE OF THE AREA
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an excellent site for birdwatching. The Pepper Creek Birding Trail runs from the Visitor Center parking area along the tram road and loops through the parking areas at Fish Bowl Drive and returns via a boat ride along Pepper Creek. This trail is one of 20 birding trails in Citrus County that are part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. A Gateway and Information kiosk for the trails is located in the Visitor Center.
HISTORY OF THE AREA
In 1846, David Yulee, a former United States Senator, established a 5,000-acre plantation and sugarcane mill. This was the area?s first known settlement made by the white man. With the beginning of the Civil War, sugar made by the mill and other products of the plantation were used to supply the Confederate Army. The Union Troops, after intensive spying and treachery by one of Yulee?s slaves, burned the family mansion on Tiger Tail Island. Yulee surrendered and spent two years in prison.
The mill is the only antebellum sugar mill in the United States. The original structure, boiler and most of the machinery, is now part of a small State Park located on State Road 490, southwest of U.S. 19.
At the end of the Civil War, families fleeing from the aftermath settled on many islands of the Chassahowitzka, Ozello and Homosassa Rivers. These island homes were self-supporting. Each had its own kitchen garden, livestock and fruit trees. Usually the islands were known by the names of the families who occupied them?such as Gordy Island, Shiver Bay, Loennecker Point and Petty Creek. Provisions were made for the establishment of a school. Early settlers were well educated, and expected the same education for their children. An island church was the next addition. Houses were built of native palm logs with thatched palm leaf roofsCommercial fishing was the mainstay of the economy with the catch being transported 60 miles North to Cedar Key by sailing sloop. Household supplies were brought back by these sloops, as there was no railroad until the late 1900?s. Mail came to Cedar Key, and from there a fleet of boats carried it to the island settlements.
A group of New England financiers bought most of the riverfront property on the Homosassa River in 1886. Then, much of the riverfront property was uninhabited because the land was too swampy. No property became available to the public until about 1921, and at that time extensive land filings began.
The Homosassa area has been known for many generations to famous and wealthy sportsmen. Arriving in Ocala by train, they then had to journey by horse and buggy to Homosassa. The buggies were driven by former slaves who stayed on and were now loyal retainers at Osceola Inn, Meeker House, Dunn Cottage, the Rendezvous and the Atlanta Fishing Club.
The local cemetery is called Stage Stand. It was on this location that a station stood. This was not a train station, but one for changing horse teams and seeing to the needs of stage coach passengers. The station also received mail from all surrounding areas. A town called Mansfield was established in 1887 and served as the County Seat. A trip to the County Seat by wagon was a real event and much looked forward to by the whole family. Not only was business taken care of, but it gave the family a chance to socialize with other county residents. In 1891, the County Seat was moved to Inverness. Mansfield is no longer on the map.
The following years brought many changes. The West Coast Development Company purchased the Homosassa area, including thousands of acres, in the late 1920?s. They instigated extensive advertising, encouraged improvement of highways, transportation systems and brought many interested investors and prospective property owners to investigate the area.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900?s, when trains stopped to let passengers rest at the spring. The train track ran on what is now Fishbowl Drive, which runs through the park. While passengers rested, the train loaded fish, crabs, cedar and spring water. The spring and headwaters of the Homosassa River is the only known place in the world where thousands of fresh and saltwater fish congregate. These fish are free to come and go to the Gulf of Mexico, nine miles away.
Our Visitor Center and main entrance is located on U.S. Highway 19 and includes several interpretive opportunities for visitors to enjoy. Exhibits include U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Manatee Education Center and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Migratory Bird exhibit. A display on the history of Homosassa runs along the length of inside wall of the Visitor Center. A diorama shows what the town of Homosassa looked like in the early 1900's and includes a working replica of the Mullet train with a recorded message on the Mullet train. A life-size crocodile and alligator made from molds greet visitors to the center.
The Park has two Gift Shops for visitor shopping. The State of Elegance is in the park's Visitor Center and offers unique gifts, clothing, books, etc. on a Florida nature theme. The Nest of Treasures is located at the West Entrance and offers a variety of gifts and clothing for younger park visitors.
The Remember When Restaurant is now open for dinner! Located above the Visitor Center on U.S. 19, the Remember When is open daily, 7 days a week. The hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.Breakfast is served from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.; lunch service starts at 11:00 a.m. To reach Remember When, call 352-628-1717.
The Manatee Cafe is located at the park's West Entrance. The hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. To reach the Manatee Cafe, call 352-628-3180.
The Men's restroom located at the West Entrance is ADA accessible.
Included in your admission, weather permitting, is a boat tour that transports you from the Visitor Center to the West Entrance to the Wildlife Park along Pepper Creek. Rangers give an introduction to the park and the Florida Park Service. Wildlife is identified along the way.
A picnic area is located in the Garden of the Springs.
A 1.10 mile trail winds throughout the Wildlife Park including paved trails and elevated boardwalk systems. Benches and rain shelters are conveniently located along the trail. Bleachers are located at the Manatee Program area and Wildlife Encounters. The park offers many opportunities to photograph the Real Florida and its wildlife. Commercial photographers should check-in at the park office.