By Jill Martin
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park once again is welcoming wild manatees to spend the winter in its warm waters. For the third year, the park has opened a gate that allows the manatees to enter the area surrounding the spring.
"With the onset of cooler weather, it is important for wild manatees to have access to the warmer spring waters," said park manager Art Yerian. "On cold mornings, it is not unusual to see dozens of wild manatees in the main spring, including many females with calves."
The Homosassa Springs wildlife park participates in U.S. Fish and Wildlife's manatee rescue and rehabilitation program. In 30-plus years, the park staff has helped rehabilitate more than 40 injured Homosassa Springs manatees.
A separation fence installed within the spring allows staff to keep the injured marine mammals segregated from their healthier brethren. In Spring 2013, when the wild manatees leave the park, the gate is closed and the injured manatees are allowed to roam the entire spring bowl.
The Homosassa Springs manatees are just one of the many natural wonders at the state park. Using a wildlife walk that navigates woods and wetlands, visitors might see black bears, foxes, river otters, cougars, key deer and hundreds of bird species.
See the park website for information on fees, boat tours and hiking opportunities. A picnic area is located in the Garden of the Springs. Make a day of it.