Nearly 25 years ago, I visited central Florida’s Silver Springs State Park with my family. We hiked, canoed, watched a live music show and rode on the park’s iconic glass bottom boats. It was an amazing experience that I remember fondly.
The glass bottom boats, which the park first introduced in the 1870s, provide passengers with a view down into the crystal-clear waters of one of Florida’s largest networks of natural springs. Visitors are able to see “countless species of fish, ancient Native American and Spanish artifacts and even underwater movie props from the days when Hollywood productions flourished at the park!”
The only problem: the historic boats have not been wheelchair accessible.
That is about to change. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Silver Springs State Park will soon debut a new high-tech and wheelchair accessible glass-bottom boat, making the popular sightseeing experience on the Silver River accessible for the first time in 150 years.
When the boat launches in the coming weeks, it will feature a wheelchair space with room to turn a wheelchair around, as well as “underwater lights for night tours, special electronics for hearing aids and capacity for underwater video cameras.” It will be able to accommodate up to 30 passengers.
Envisioned by Paula Russo, an employee and former volunteer for the Florida State Parks Foundation, the accessible glass bottom boat project has taken nearly six years to complete. Funding for the new boat was generously provided by a number of sources: $200,000 from Florida State Park Foundation; $100,000 from the Felburn Foundation; $90,000 from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund; $20,000 from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida; $10,000 from the Friends of Silver Springs; and $10,000 from Cape Leisure Corp. The State of Florida has agreed to cover the cost of motors, batteries and electronics.
Pretty soon, wheelchair users will be able to get an up-close look at the magical Silver Lake, its resident manatees and the aquatic life that makes Florida’s waterways some of the most beautiful in the world. See you on the water!
Featured image courtesy Silver Springs State Park.