Wish You Were Here: Florida State Parks Project

Wish You Were here:  Exploring the Cultural Heritage of Florida State Parks

Weeki Wachee Theatre GBThe Florida Division of Recreation & Parks (DRP) is collaborating with the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida on the “Wish You Were Here” project, a self-directed cultural trail for visitors to explore the rich cultural heritage of seven Florida state parks (Wakulla Springs State Park; Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings SHP; Homosassa Springs; Silver Springs; Rainbow Springs; Weekee Wachee; and DeLeon Springs). The objective is to explore Florida’s roadside attractions located along pre-interstate roads before the 1970s, when Disneyworld and the interstate system transformed Florida’s tourism focus. Some of Florida’s most popular former attractions were based around large springs and are now some of today’s most beloved state parks. View the District Presentation on the Historic Parks Project here.

Through coursework, internships and volunteering, students can help to develop supporting materials to augment and promote the itinerary project. These “public humanities” projects for students may include: conducting oral histories, physical and digital exhibit design, digitizing/archiving/curating slides and film, generating digital cultural resources related to the itinerary (virtual tours), and historical research using state park and other archives, including Paradise Park. Click for link to DRP Project description pdf.)

Wakulla Springs jungle boat 1952 post markBackground: In the years after World War II and up into the 1960’s, there were no interstate highways in Florida and no Turnpike. The main north-south routes were US-1, US-27, US-301, US-441, and US-41. A lot of these roads converged near Ocala, and then fanned out to head southwest toward Tampa and Sarasota or southeast toward Lake Okeechobee and Miami beyond.  A number of roadside attractions developed along these roads drawing in a steady stream of tourists until the construction of the interstate system and the development of Disney World in 1971.

We have developed a self-guided itinerary that will include some of these older ‘pre-interstate’ roads to reflect the slower-paced tempo of a simpler era. The itinerary focus is to visit state park destinations that were previously roadside attractions or theme parks and will include links to other related points of interest existing before 1970.  The route will begin at Wakulla Springs and meanders to Silver Springs, DeLeon Springs, Weeki Wachee, Homosassa Springs and Rainbow Springs.

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For more information on this project and to get involved, contact:

UF Coordinator: Whitney Sanford, Associate Professor, Department of Religion – wsanford@ufl.edu

Office of Greenways and Trails Coordinator: Liz Sparks – Liz.Sparks@dep.state.fl.us