Firsthand Florida Fun: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

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Watch Erika Z.’s adventure on YouTube and learn more about Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa, Florida.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The native Florida fish species swirled around me, oblivious to my wide eyes inside Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s Underwater Observatory. Built down into the spring itself, the circular, subsurface room flowed blue, light streaming in from the giant windows.

Looking at Homosassa Springs Underwater Observatory and seeing schools of fish swim by  People looking into the Homosassa Springs Underwater Observatory

Everywhere I looked I saw fish. Snook, crevelle, and more made the rounds, so close I could stare directly into their thin faces. The Underwater Observatory was just one of the many ways the park exposes visitors to native Florida Wildlife Species.

Roseate Spoonbills

The park creates opportunities both with wild experiences - like my fish buddies in the observatory, or the plethora of bird species that call the spring home - but also through up-close looks at enclosed natives like the manatee, crane, deer, and so much more. I’m a bird lover, so of course I adored my views of Roseate Spoonbills and birds of prey, but I have also never seen many of the reptiles on display at the park, the adorable Bobcat, or the impressive Florida Cougar. Many of the animals at the Homosassa could not survive on their own in the wild, and the park offers them a home as well as an educational experience for visitors.

Bobcat standing on a rock and looking to the right  Bear in its enclosure at Homosassa Springs

Even entrance to the park itself offers quality species-viewing time. I pulled into a lot at one end of the park, boarding a pontoon boat to take a 15-minute voyage down Pepper Creek to reach the West Entrance and the main area of the park.

large, sunning American Alligator

We glided past a large, sunning American Alligator, a graceful Little Blue Heron, a large Osprey nest, and a myriad of turtle species. As we moved through the tunnel of green, the boat captain gave a brief history of the Homosassa Springs as well as what we could expect to see during the course of our visit.

I do have to admit that one of the highlights of my tour came with the discovery of the park’s one non-native member: Lu. Lu is a Hippopotamus; a giant Hippopotamus (he weighs 6,000 pounds).

Lu a giant Hippopotamus sticking his head in the air

According to my pontoon boat captain, Lu is the oldest hippo in the United States, one of the exotic species kept in Homosassa when it was still open as an animal zoo. Though the other animals were transferred when it was re-opened as a Florida State Park, local residents were so attached to Lu that they petitioned Governor Lawton Chiles to give the hippo citizen status. The best part? He did!

When I saw Lu, he was relaxing beneath the spring water, his great bulk partially hidden beneath the surface. He looked the picture of ease as his eyes followed the visitors, occasionally flicking his ears and dozing.

From fish to cranes to manatees to Lu, I learned so much about species I had either never seen, or observed only at a distance. I hope to see as many as I can in the wilds of Florida!

Lu is a Hippopotamus, swimming in the water with his body partially above the waterline

Watch Erika Z.’s adventure on YouTube and learn more about Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa, Florida.

See all the Firsthand Florida Fun blog posts and plan your Florida State Park adventure!

About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time.