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Silver Springs absorbed into state park system

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Palace Entertainment announced Wednesday that Florida’s oldest theme park, Silver Springs, in Ocala, will be absorbed into the state park system.

Palace Entertainment will come out of the lease agreement and pay $4 million toward work on the park to help restore it back to a more natural state, said Patrick Gillespie, public information officer for the Department of Environmental Protection.

The animals in the park could be a cause for the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the spring’s basin, Gillespie said.

“What animals do in nature, they do at the park,” he said.

Eliminating some of the animal exhibits, especially those near the spring, may help the health of the spring. Some of the amusement rides may also be removed, he said.

Don Koepnick, a tourist from North Carolina, said he began coming to the springs when he was 15 and enjoys the rides out on the glass bottom boats the most. Right now, the prices are “a little steep,” he said, it may be better for families when the state takes it over because it will likely be a lot less expensive.

Gainesville resident Frances Lapinsky used to come when she was a child and liked the jungle-ride to see the animals and the petting zoo.

“I hope they don’t do away with that,” Lapinsky said, “Because they had that when I was here, and that was neat.”

Palace will continue to operate the park until Oct. 1. The state would like to keep as many vendors and employees as possible, Gillepsie said, but not all the decisions have yet been made.

Rachel Jones edited this story online.

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