I’ve lived in Florida for most of my life, since 1950 when I moved to Miami at age 5. I’ve lived in Ocala since 2001. I came to Ocala in the 1950s for summer camp just across State Road 40 from Silver Springs. We often came to the park for educational purposes, learning about the springs from the glass-bottom boat captains and about snakes from Ross Allen.
Like most of Florida back then, Ocala was a small town with lots of green space and beautiful trees. The now booming environment of concrete and asphalt and loss of flora and fauna statewide is a significant change.
We live in an entertainment culture for the most part, even expecting the natural environment and wildlife to be part of that entertainment. This takes its toll on our spirit and our psyche. Many adults and most children now have what is termed “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Through our focus on entertainment, be it online, on the big screen or at an amusement park, we have lost our sense of connectivity with the natural world.
Fortunately for us all, there have been many with the wisdom and foresight to protect and preserve wild areas for us to treasure and enjoy. Our national parks are celebrating their centennial year right now and are enjoyed by millions. Florida has 161 state parks and 10 state trails. Their purpose is to detoxify us from our constant exposure to bright lights, fast vehicles, loud noises and constant stimulation.
Countless studies have shown that we humans need this immersion in the natural environment to maintain our sense of wholeness and well being. We deny ourselves this rich experience if we consider these parks as merely economic stimuli or entertainment venues. Certainly, there will be some of that. The canoe/kayak launch at Silver Springs State Park is a beehive of activity on a summer day or on any weekend. The Silver River is a beautiful, undeveloped wild place to enjoy the serenity we need to refresh our spirit. Contrast that to the Rainbow River on the other side of the county. It’s often noisy, crowded and lined with homes and private docks.
The other aspect of our state and national parks is the preservation and conservation of wildlife, marine life, wetlands, forests, flora and fauna. This is a critical need as our human population continues to increase and encroach on natural spaces and decreases the biodiversity of our state’s environment.
After reading the front page article last Sunday, “Silver Springs at the Crossroads,” I invite Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, County Commissioner Stan McLain and state House candidate Rick Perry to enter Silver Springs State Park at the Baseline Road entrance. As you decrease your vehicle speed to 20 mph and enter the lushly wooded and peaceful environment, be sure that your car radio and cell phone are turned off. Open your windows. Feel the breeze. Hear the birds. And keep a lookout for wildlife as you wind your way down the mile long road to the Silver River Museum parking lot. The museum is great, but I suggest you take the River Trail through the woods to the Silver River. When you reach the old canoe launch, hang out for a while and observe the flocks of ibis, great blue herons, anhinga and more in the trees. Check by the water’s edge for the alligator snapping turtle that often hangs out there and the many small fish waiting to be his lunch. Calm your mind and refresh your spirit. That’s what the park is for.