Carl Goldman remembers going to Wild Waters in Ocala, Fla., for the first time when he was 6 years old.
The Ocala native went to the water park with his parents and siblings almost once a week during the summertime. Goldman said he remembers screaming as he zipped down the swirly water slides, running around until there were blisters on the bottoms of his feet and getting sunburned so badly he would refuse to wear a shirt for days.
But after the summer of 2016, there’s a chance that all Goldman will have left of Wild Waters are the Polaroid pictures his mom took and the scars on the bottom of his foot from the blisters.
Wild Waters, which opened in April of 1978, is now owned by the state of Florida. The Silver Springs advisory group suggested the water park be phased out over time, said Jason Mahon, spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The department has a few concerns. Wild Waters pumps out more than 2 million gallons of water per month from the City of Ocala’s supply before circulating it in the water park and disposing of it through the sewer system, Mahon said.
“This is seen (as) counterproductive to the overall goal of protecting and restoring the Silver Springs,” Mahon said. “Removing the water park will allow a wide range of aesthetic enhancements, as well as promote future recreational and economic opportunity.”
However, Jim DeBerry, the water park’s general manager, remains optimistic about the future of the park.
Wild Waters is in agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to revisit the phase-out plan come summer 2016 if DeBerry and the rest of the water park’s management follow the department’s suggestions. The goal is to minimize the amount of water being used and to make the park an ecotourism spot.
DeBerry said he believes as long as the community and visitors who want Wild Waters to stick around come out and support the park, it will be around for years to come.
Recently, the water park developed a “save, sanitize, filtrate and recirculate” program, which DeBerry said will save water. The park also implemented a new recycling program while adding new attractions and educational programs.
“We are growing with the times,” DeBerry said. “We believe we have become a smarter park to the environment…”
Anthony and Karen Edwards are fighting the phasing out of Wild Waters in the form of a petition.
The two have been taking their 11-year-old son to the water park for nine years.
Around March of last year, Anthony and Karen Edwards were trying to figure out when Wild Waters would be opening for summer. It was then that they read the news: The Silver Springs advisory group suggested their favorite water park be phased out.
Palace Entertainment, which formerly owned and operated Wild Waters, got out of their contract and left the water park under state ownership in October 2013, Mahon said.
Anthony and Karen Edwards started a Facebook page and a website to express their frustration. They also started a petition to keep Wild Waters open, and it now more than 3,000 signatures.
“This is our state. This is our water park,” Anthony Edwards said. “We’re supposed to have democracy. People are supposed to be listening.”
But the advisory group has plans to turn the land where the water park currently sits into an ecotourism spot equipped with trails and a swimming hole.
“This is what the state wants,” Anthony Edwards said. “They don’t give a damn about the people.”
Anthony Edwards and other park-goers now have to pay a $4 state park fee in addition to the water park’s admission fees.
Meanwhile, members of the advisory group agreed the focus would be on the protection and restoration of Silver Springs while providing nature-based recreation, Mahon said.
The advisory group and the department came to an agreement that a swimming area can be recreated at the head of the spring in a manner that does not interfere with the glass-bottom boat tours, he said.
When the park is able to provide swimming, it is recommended that Wild Waters be phased out.
During the phase-out period, Allstate Construction Inc. was hired to make repairs and improvements to Wild Waters. This is so the park can be open to the public during the summer seasons on a short-term basis until the swimming area in Silver Springs is opened, Mahon said. Then the plan will be revisited.
Sad to see a treasured childhood memory be considered for closure, Goldman said he plans on going to Wild Waters as much as possible this summer.
“It’ll be a bummer if it really does close,” he said. “There are a lot of good memories there.”
But if it does close, Goldman said, he’ll still have the memories, the Polaroid pictures and the scar on the bottom of his foot.