When the kids of Ocala had Wild Waters

By Carlton Reese | With the Historic Ocala Preservation Society

On the corner of Baseline Road and State Road 40 in Silver Springs sits an empty lot, nondescript with its grass lawn, live oaks and scrub palmetto. Nary a pebble exists there any more to tell the story of what this place actually meant to young Ocalans for nearly 50 years. What looks like mildly-manicured nature is actually the site of Wild Waters, so recent in its complete demolition that some locals may not even be privy to its absence, assuming it exists as it had from its initial construction in 1978.

Its status as a ghost amusement park did not last long. Abandoned rides and buildings became overgrown with flora soon after its official closure in 2016, but a thorough clean-up of the property has left no mark of its existence.

The ghosts, however, remain among the trees.

When Wild Waters was built by ABC Television in 1978, very few water parks existed with fiberglass flumes such as it had, especially in Florida and the southern United States. The soda beverage Squirt even filmed a national television commercial there with locals starring.

The names “Osceola’s Revenge” and “Bunyan’s Bend” are sure to bring back memories to all who visited the park in their youth, as those were the names of the two main slides that were original features of the park. Twisting through the trees with multiple drops and turns, the two rides were the thrills that complemented the 450,000-gallon wave pool and “Cool Kids Cove” for the very young.

The Silver Bullet ride was later added and was the main attraction and first thing patrons saw as they drove toward the park. The Silver Bullet featured dual-speed flumes with two main drops that emptied into a splash pool.

Beneath the wooden ramps which patrons walked up to enter the slides, there was even a miniature golf course in the early years. Players would often be splashed during their rounds by water dumped over the edges of the flumes from riders making their turns.

The park featured a picnic area, game room, concessions and even a bar that served tropical drinks. Over the years, different rides would be added and removed, including The Hurricane,” a figure-8 shaped double flume that stood 80 feet tall. There was the Alligator Ambush that began in 2008 and featured an enclosed flume that exited into a slide funnel. Riders may also remember the Twin Twister, Thunderbolt and the Tornado, all steel-framed rides that couldn’t hack the Florida humidity as well as the other wooden-framed rides. As a result, corrosion took its toll and those rides were dismantled out of safety concerns.

In 2002, Palace Entertainment began managing the park and was under contract to remain so through 2029, but that all changed in 2013 when then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott released the company from its contract and placed both Wild Waters and adjacent Silver Springs under the control of the Florida Parks Service and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The move came with the typical controversy that surrounds the demise of such an iconic part of the locals’ childhood memories. In 2016, when Wild Waters was to have its final run, a petition was signed by over 3,400 people seeking to keep the park open, but it was to no avail. After the 2018 December demolition of the park, another petition was circulated to rebuild Wild Waters and this time over 12,000 people signed.

Wild Waters will never return and, like Six Gun Territory to the west, Ocala Caverns and Florida Adventureland, will be just a relic in the collective memories of those who grew up here. And wonderful memories at that.  

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