For two decades I lived in a Big California City. During the time I lived in the Big City, I was able to observe–often on a daily basis–Big City’s wildlife. This was always fun, often educational, and occasionally threatening, just as it is in the true wild. I was able to observe the untethered roaming of the Homeless Haight Street Panhandler, the (Insert Drug of Choice Here) Dealer, and the infamous Bridge-and-Tunnel Warrior, among others.
Occasionally, you’d find one of these species in a cage, but more often than not these species were left alone to roam the city during their normal hunting hours. The B-and-T Warrior was mostly a nocturnal, weekend creature and was often the most dangerous of the three illustrated species. He would roam the nightclubs South of Market with a platinum Amex card, looking for thrills with punk chicks in black leather jackets. The B-and-T Warrior was a very poor tipper. The Dealer was also known to travel the same territory as the Warrior, but he also stalked the Marina with his fancy nose powders popular with stockbrokers and Silicon Valley types with billions to burn on launching the latest celebrity-gossip Web site. The Homeless Haight Street Panhandler would range about as far as Hippie Hill and then backtrack down to Ashbury, hitting up the Japanese tourists with his yen for a dollar.
People who have not been to the Big California City shrug off my trepidation at Florida’s wildlife by saying that Big City’s version is far more dangerous. Certainly it is much more common to have a hostile encounter with the wildlife of Big City than it is to have a similar run-in while exploring Florida’s outdoors. Still, I do have a bit of hesitation, which is why Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park was such a stress-free adventure.
Everything at the park is penned, fenced, or glassed-in. Even the visitor is, when observing snook from the underwater observatory known the “Fish Bowl.” It was safe as can be for the ophidiophobe, who happily took pictures of pit vipers coiled behind protective glass. The only peril is from stinging bugs, but you can’t have everything unless you live in a biosphere.
Homosassa Springs was a privately owned roadside attraction that fell victim to a recession and was sold off to Canadian Pacific, which in turn sold it to Citrus County. In 1989, Citrus County sold the park to the State of Florida. Following this purchase, non-native plants and exotic animals were removed so that the park would reflect only the “real” Florida.
The park is a rare treat for the fan of Old Florida. Enough remains of the original roadside attraction that you get the elastic experience of the present fused onto the past, kind of like what happens when a middle-aged adult suddenly acts like a five-year-old and sticks her head through a manatee photo board.
Homosassa Springs: *****
If you visit: The main entrance to the park is on South Suncoast Blvd (US 19/98). From this entrance, visitors may elect either a tram or a boat to the park itself. We entered at the smaller west entrance and missed the special transportation and then, because we had read about a boat ride, wandered fruitlessly around the park looking for a dock. When we didn’t find it, we asked at the cashier station. “The last boat left at 3:30,” the cashier explained, “but it’s transportation, not a ride.”
Agkistrodon piscivorus, a/k/a cottonmouth.
Crotalus adamanteus, a/k/a the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
Photo by David Ballard