Experience Florida’s Wild Side

July 2023

By Michelle Bearden, Visit Florida

Elly Lamme loves exploring Florida, but the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was not high on her list.

“I thought it was a zoo, and I’m not fond of looking at caged wild animals,” says the Netherlands native, who lives part-time in nearby Inverness. “It’s just not my thing.”

But after a friend persuaded her to pay a visit to the park, Lamme came away with an entirely different viewpoint of the 210-acre facility in Citrus County that put her misconceptions to rest.

She learned that the park is actually home to rescued animals and rehabilitated birds and animals native to Florida, with the exception of 55-year-old Lu the hippopotamus, famously declared an honorary citizen of Florida by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles. The park residents, most unable to survive in the wild, now live safely on diets and in habitats as close to their native environments as possible.

Informal educational programs by park volunteers and staff, along with detailed storyboards at each exhibit, gave Lamme insight into the history of the furry and feathered friends that make their home here. Among them are a black bear, Florida panthers, alligators, cougars, red wolves, bobcats, Key deer, gray fox, otters and a dedicated building just for reptiles. A bird lover, Lamme was thrilled by the flamingos, roseate spoonbills, wide-eyed owls, herons, egrets and the majestic hawks and bald eagles.

And getting an up-close and personal view of the massive West Indian manatees feasting on lettuce leaves in the park’s freshwater springs meant she could cross another item off her bucket list.

Best of all, Lamme says, is the ambiance. Visitors can begin with a short pontoon boat ride down Pepper Creek guided by a captain who points out details such as sunbathing turtles, nests of blue herons and the red cedar trees along the shoreline.

Back on land, visitors follow a path on boardwalks and paved trails in a lush tropical setting under a canopy of grand oak, cypress and palm trees. Even on the hottest summer day, there’s the comfort of constant shade on the jungle-like grounds.

Now, Lamme is one of the park’s many devoted fans, calling it a “true hidden treasure” on the state’s Nature Coast.

“Anyone with an interest in what makes Florida unique needs to put this place on a must-see list,” she says. “Once isn’t enough. It’s the kind of place where you can return time and time again and see something different.”