Silver Springs opened as a newly renovated state park Tuesday morning after merging its property with Silver River State Park.
Renovations of the 4,660-acre park include installed sewage pumps and new and enhanced facilities to protect natural resources.
Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione said a lot of the changes are hard to see because they’re underground.
“Sewer, electric — things like that — and simple painting the visitors may not notice, but a lot of effort has been gone into transforming the traditional attraction to a state park,” he said.
Gov. Rick Scott announced a $37 million fund in September to support statewide springs projects, with $20 million of the funding being used for Silver Springs.
The goal of the projects is to improve the water quality of the springs and reduce the 663,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution per year, according to a press release.
Also new to the springs are animal rescue programs, which Forgione said will result in a healthier spring.
“One terrific thing that has been done is that the animals that were once there and all of the animal waste which were right on the spring have been removed,” he said, “so that removes a significant amount of nitrogen just by removing the animals.”
Another change to the park, besides the lack of animals, is the new canoe and kayak launch, allowing riders to paddle one direction along with the current rather than going up and then back down.
Guests were equally enthusiastic about taking their first steps into the newly renovated park.
Jon Zedick and his wife, Lora, traveled from Orlando to visit the park on its opening day. They said they were thrilled to discover they made history by being among the first guests to experience the new park.
Zedick said Silver Springs has always been known for its glass-bottom boat tours.
“It’s just amazing that water can be that clear where you can see through it that easily,” he said.
Other park visitors said they were curious about how the state plans to maintain the park.
Meta Chalker, a park guest, said she was excited to witness the opening and see the changes that have been made. She said she looks forward to seeing “how they are going to keep it natural.”
Forgione said he is focused on protecting the natural park’s land.
“Silver Springs is life,” Forgione said. “It has given life to so many people. And life is in many different varieties; life as breathing and drinking water, but life as also enhancing, and we provide a great enhancement to folks’ lives.”
The park plans to host events and concerts in the future. It is now open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to sunset.