BY KEITH CORNELIUS
SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BANNER
I am really disturbed to see one of Marion County’s best natural resources being exploited for nothing more than the almighty dollar.
I was an animal handler at Silver Springs from 1999 to 2003. When I had a chance to go to work for the attraction I was so excited, because when I was younger every time you heard the name Silver Springs you associated it a place that takes care of nature and you knew they were doing the right thing.
If you took an injured animal like a bird, opossum or any wild animal, you knew they would take it and take care of it. I used to get so excited about going to work and entertaining the guests and teaching them about Florida’s wildlife. We would have a blast with the visitors from all over the world.
Then after about eight months we were bought out and the spiral downward started to happen.
There were cutbacks, so the budgets started to dry up and the prices in the park started to go up. They started to close attractions or cut them back and it was painfully apparent that the company was only interested in the water park and the almighty dollar.
My wife and I both worked there and thought it couldn’t get any worse. Oh, were we wrong!
One day we came into work and were told the park was only going to be open four days a week and everyone would be at part-time status and lose all our benefits. After that, the whole park went downhill.
Boardwalks were in gruesome shape. Boards around the alligator enclosures were rotting away, and instead of fixing them, they would just close off that portion of the boardwalk. I can go on and on, but I won’t.
I bring this all up because the new company that just bought Silver Springs is doing the same thing.
They don’t want to invest any money in the park. They just take it for all the cash they can, then just leave it for someone else to fix.
There are no animals at the jungle cruise, just movie sets. The animal shows on the island are nothing compared with what they used to be. I know when I watched the shows last year for about 10 minutes, because that’s all I could take. There were several mistruths in the show and they were about as exciting as watching paint dry.
They are planning on raising the prices to the park and for parking. What for? The money isn’t going back into the park; I believe it’s going to go straight into the pockets of the people who own the company.
I believe they should make a profit, but as my father used to say, “Before you can make money, you have to spend it.”
This company, in my eyes, is not doing this. But it will continue to take advantage of the land, the people and, worst of all, the animals.
I have a solution to the problem: Every resident of Marion County and the state of Florida should tell these people enough is enough by boycotting all Silver Springs events, including concerts, special events and the Wild Waters water park.
If we hit them where it hurts – and that’s their wallet – we will send them a clear message. And that is, take care of our resources or we won’t support your company and get out.
Keith Cornelius, a former animal handler at Silver Springs, is retired from the U.S. Navy. He lives in Ocala.