The Great Florida Outdoors: Rainbow Springs

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Dr. Robert Norman, Clinical Professor, Dermatology, Nova Southeastern University

I recently was able to explore Rainbow Springs, an amazing place to spend time and enjoy what natural Florida offers. Although the river can be crowded and noisy with those floating on tubes and boats, it is still possible to observe the edges of wildness.

As I hiked and kayaked, I saw anhingas, cormorants, ibis, alligators, dragonflies, turtles (more than in most parks I have been in), and all kinds of our fellow creatures inhabiting this wonderful and surprising planet.

Here is a brief history. Rock phosphate was discovered around the springs in 1889; it is an important mineral used to fertilize crops and in animal feed, food preservatives, cosmetics, and other industries.

Many people living in the area, such as in the nearby town of Dunnellon, depended on phosphate mining jobs. Phosphate miners used huge steam-powered machines to dig pits to locate and remove the phosphate.

Several pits are within the park boundary. After the phosphate mines were exhausted, the area was purchased and turned into a tourist attraction. The huge piles of discarded soil were the perfect place to build waterfalls! Businessmen capitalized on Florida’s tropical image in the early- and mid-20th century to attract even more people to this “jungle oasis.” The tropicallooking waterfalls complimented the park’s springs and its collection of exotic animals.

Many relics of Rainbow Springs State Park’s past serve as a kitschy tourist attraction. The waterfalls, the rainbow fountain, the entrance walk, gift shop, dining terrace, and the remains of the aviary and animal cages all date from Florida’s golden age of tourism in the 1960s.

The attraction operated until it closed in 1973, having lost tourists after it was bypassed when Interstate 75 was built through Ocala and being wounded by the competition from Walt Disney World near Orlando. The property was acquired by the State of Florida in 1990 to be managed as a state park and today the Florida Park Service protects the park’s natural and cultural resources.

Get outside in the Great Florida Outdoors!

Dr. Norman is an advanced master naturalist graduate of the FMNP program from UF and a board-certified dermatologist based in Tampa and Riverview. He can be reached at 813-880-7546.

Dr. Norman’s new book “Reading the Florida Landscape” will be published in 2020.

Books and book cases needed for literacy and book donation program. Call my office 813-880-7546 for pick-up or delivery.

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