Thursday, May 09, 2013

Rainbow Springs--What Once Was.

In the decades between the time Florida was popularized as a tourist destination and the time Disney changed the face of tourism in the state, there were hundreds of various amusement parks there. Many of these parks had been based around the first and second magnitude springs that had ended up in private hands. In fact, many of the greatest freshwater springs in Florida were privately owned, and of those number, quite a few had amusement parks built around them.

Some of these amusement parks were fairly low-key, counting on the vast pools of water to attract the ticket-buyers. But others were far more complex with rides, additional gardens, glass-bottom boats, zoos, and other attractions. One of the more detailed of these parks was Rainbow Springs.

In its day, Rainbow Springs was a major tourist attraction in Florida. People came not only to see the amazing first magnitude spring billowing the millions of gallons of pure, fresh water, but to also take in the rest of the attraction. To paraphrase Richard Attenborough in JURASSIC PARK, someone "spared no expense". The infrastructure of the amusement park, although long since moth-balled, is still impressive on modern review.

Among the things that the park had was a fairly impressive small zoo. Many parts of this zoo are still standing, and quite solidly at that. Of course the enclosures have been mainly taken down and there are no more exotic creatures in them, but the walls and outlines can be seen. In addition, there was a huge aviary there; one can still see the massive steel and concrete anchors that once held up the gigantic metal skeleton and nets.

A part of the park now is called "the Butterfly Garden" and is planted with native flora to attract butterflies. But up until the park was closed as a commercial concern, that area had a corral and was home to a western-style rodeo.

And in various places around the park there are waterfalls. The owner had added to the already hilly terrain of the slope above the head spring to create towers of earth and rock. These were specifically engineered and landscaped to create a surface upon which waterfalls were constructed. Some of these artificial waterfalls are very impressive. The water is pumped to the highest points to big clear pools where gravity takes it back down over rocky overhangs producing waterfalls suitable for even the hills of North Carolina. To me, this is one of the most impressive things about the faded ghost of the old amusement park.

Today, most of the flash is gone--the zoo, the rodeo, the aviary, and the rides that included the glass-bottom boats and a rather unique submarine that had been built to allow visitors to sit below water level as the craft took them on a circuit around the massive Rainbow Spring. But you can still see the substrate upon which all of this was built. Like almost all of the other amusement parks that were based around Florida's gorgeous freshwater springs, this one ended up in the hands of the people of Florida where it can be enjoyed by everyone for a couple of bucks, instead of an expensive admission ticket.

So the rapacious Disney corporation was good for one thing--it was obviously instrumental in causing all of these great springs to end up in the hands of the State of Florida.

(And here is a site with a little bit of information on old Lost Florida.)

Rainbow Springs, the natural feature around which the old park was constructed.

Waterfalls? Really? (Well, not really.)

The trails and boardwalks are renovated when needed, but are built on the same template laid down by the private owners from decades before.

One of the largest of the fake waterfalls.

This was my favorite of the fake waterfalls.

The main center of the old amusement park is still in use. Here are the park offices, a shop where you can buy State Park stuff, and a bit of a burger/sandwich/ice cream joint and dining area where you can enjoy your food.

Some of these man-made waterfalls really are quite pretty.

Brick laid decades ago still serves perfectly today.

This was once a pool that held some kind of aquatic critters. Now it's a giant planter.

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