by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)
Rainbow Springs is just north of Dunnellon, Florida, and at one time it was quite a popular tourist attraction. It was not as big as Silver Springs further up north in Ocala, but it did pretty good.
Sometime in the 1930s the original owners copied the idea of glass bottom boats that had been so popular in Silver Springs. A bit different, however, than the Silver Spring boats was the deep draft of the Rainbow Springs boats that allowed visitors to sit below the waterline and look out into the clear waters through glass windows.
Rainbow Springs had a lot of competition from other watery attractions in addition to Silver Springs. Among these was Weeki Wachee Springs with it's mermaids, and Homosassa Srpings. But it survived and was able to stay in business.
They added mermaids and had a swimming bunch of pretty girls named the Bahama Belles. Still, things were tough because the competition had better locations.
In the late 1960s some investors came along and pumped a lot of money into the attraction. Birds and animal shows were started and a simulated paddlewheel riverboat chugged up and down the Rainbow River. The park had a monorail that went through the leafy branches of trees, similar to a zip line experience of today but you were sitting in a monorail car.
These were all good things, but the timing was lousy. Walt Disney World opened in October 1971, and Rainbow Springs couldn't survive. People just drove on by and spent their money in Orlando. They finally closed the park in 1973.
In the meantime, the area around the park was being developed, especially by the huge residential subdivision of 6,200 acres known as The Villages of Rainbow Springs. This development started in 1977 and has been very successful.
Finally, in 1990 the State bought the former attraction of Rainbow Springs and turned it into a State Park. With a lot of help from local volunteers, the park was officially opened in 1995. The glitzy tourist attraction part is gone, but you can still see the beauty of the springs, the Rainbow River and the beautiful wooded site.
The State Park is a great place to camp, canoe, kayak and just enjoy nature.