On the Garden Path

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Theme park set in a jungle atmosphere

FLO KELLOGG

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Silver Springs Attraction, a 350-acre theme park in Silver Springs, Fla., is known as Nature's Theme Park. It's located 90 miles north of Orlando, just east of Ocala.

Nature's colorful beauty encircles everyone who visits. The botanical gardens feature an abundance of native and exotic plants that hug the boardwalks and walking paths along the banks of the Silver River.

On nice days, sunlight filters through dense foliage, cascading among oaks, pines and towering cypress trees. Sunbeams sparkle on the Silver River that winds its way through the park. Visitors can cruise the Silver River in one of the park's world-famous glass-bottom boats (as seen in the photo), where they can see fish, shellfish, turtles and alligators.

Flamingos strut about, showing off their grace and charm, while giraffes and other exotic birds greet visitors. And the many squirrels that live at the park are so friendly that they'll eat nuts out of one's open hand. Over a wooden bridge that overlooks a gurgling brook, visitors can see dozens of alligators sunning themselves behind a wall of glass in the 1-acre cypress swamp called Big Gator Lagoon.

Other attractions include a petting zoo, an island that houses a collection of snakes, turtles, spiders, otters and other animals native to Florida, and the World of Bears, a 2-acre exhibit that showcases rare and endangered bears, including Kodiaks and North American black bears. Each bear occupies its own den, behind tall wire fences.

All paths at the park lead to the Twin Oaks Mansion, where musical entertainers, including Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Martina McBride, have performed. Las Vegas acts, from Wayne Newton to the late Ray Charles, have also graced the stage.

Entering Silver Springs Attraction seems to me like stepping into the Garden of Eden.

For more information, visit the Web site - www.silversprings.com.