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 concessionaire-operated gift shops and a concessionaire-operated café with a selection of beverages and snacks. Plan 3 1/2 to 4 hours to tour the park. Check the Ranger Programs for a list of interactive events throughout the park each day.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s, when trains stopped to let passengers off to walk the short trail to the first-magnitude spring. The tracks ran alongside what is now Fishbowl Drive. While passengers enjoyed a view of Homosassa Spring and its myriad of fresh and saltwater fish, the train’s crew were busy loading their freight of fish, crabs, cedar and spring water aboard the Mullet Train.
The 50-acre site and surrounding 100 acres was purchased in the 1940s and was operated as a small attraction. In 1964, the Norris Development Company bought the property and expanded it as Homosassa Springs “Nature’s Own Attraction,” with an emphasis on entertainment and with a variety of exotic animals and some native species. Ivan Tors Animal Actors housed their trained animals at Homosassa Springs Attraction for several years. These animals were trained for television shows and movies. When they were not performing they were kept at Homosassa Springs. One of the most popular of these animals was Buck who was stand-in for Gentle Ben in the famous television series. Lu, a hippopotamus, was one of the Ivan Tors animals and still resides at the park after being declared an honorary citizen of the State of Florida by then Governor Lawton Chiles. Norris owned the attraction until 1978.
From 1978 until 1984, the land went through several changes in ownership. The Citrus County Commission purchased the attraction to protect it as an environmentally sensitive area until the State of Florida could purchase the property as a Florida State Park. Modern thinking about captive wildlife has influenced how the park is now managed. Both visitor safety and animal welfare are of utmost importance at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.