Since its inauguration on Oct. 13, 1947, Weeki Wachee Springs was one of Florida's premiere roadside attractions, providing visitors with a rare glimpse of one of Florida's natural wonders and the opportunity to view a first magnitude spring by entering into the only submerged theater of its kind in the world.
Founder Newton Perry added value to the extraordinary experience by adding beautiful women performing underwater ballet, providing the imagination of performing mermaids - cutting edge for theme parks during that era.
The mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs were a must-see for travelers during the 1950s and '60s. Their amazing feats of breath-holding and underwater acrobatics grew to legendary status. Even Elvis Presley took a break from filming in the area just to see the world famous mermaids perform.
With the emergence of Disney's Magic Kingdom in 1971 and Epcot soon afterward, Florida visitors were provided with highly sophisticated special effects, animation and high-speed thrill rides. Unable to compete and change with the rapid evolving industry, many of the original Florida roadside attractions became extinct. However, Weeki Wachee Springs remained.
I am always asked the question, "Why do you think Weeki Wachee has survived all these years while others have failed?" I truly believe there is something magical and mystical about what this park represents. Whether it's the allure of the mermaids or the magnificent natural beauty of the spring itself, there is little doubt Weeki Wachee Springs exudes a sense of nostalgia and charm that has kept it alive for the past 61 years.
The State of Florida's Division of Recreation and Parks recognized the historical significance of Weeki Wachee Springs for many years.
When the City of Weeki Wachee offered to donate the attraction to the state, the Division saw a wonderful opportunity to preserve a piece of Florida's tourism history.
On Nov. 1, 2008, Weeki Wachee Springs officially became a Florida State Park. The designation as a state park will offer financial resources to the attraction that were unavailable as a private entity. This included 538 acres of additional acreage from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
A unit management plan process will be conducted, including a public workshop on Jan. 20 to see how the attraction and land will best be served for the community.
A new volunteer program will soon be implemented as well. Volunteers have served in state parks for many years and they will be vital in the future success of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The volunteer program will provide the community with an opportunity to give something to the park while providing a much needed work force to enhance the overall operation of the park.
Volunteers at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park will learn new skills and be oriented to new challenges and responsibilities, as well as gain valuable work experience.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, please call me at 352-596-2062, Ext. 11.
Florida's state park system is one of the largest in the country with 160 parks spanning more than 700,000 acres and 100 miles of sandy white beach.
Florida State Parks were twice awarded the National Recreation and Parks Association's Gold Medal Award, honoring Florida as the "Nation's Best State Park Service." The Gold Medal honors the nation's outstanding park and recreation agencies for excellence in the field of recreation management.
For more information about Florida State Parks, visit www.FloridaStateParks.org.