Water quality protection work continues at Weeki Wachee State Park

WEEKI WACHEE - The oldest and fastest water slide at Weeki Wachee’s Buccaneer Bay water park is scheduled for demolition.

The four-story-tall, straight-shot Thunderbolt flume that dumps into the crystal-clear lagoon presents safety concerns, according to Alex Cronin, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and Buccaneer Bay are owned by the state and are managed by the DEP.

“Recent inspections of the Thunderbolt slide determined it is no longer able to be maintained in a safe and serviceable condition, and therefore DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks is removing the slide,” Cronin said in a statement explaining the situation.

The adjacent twisting flume dubbed Pirates Revenge, and the Cannonball, a tube slide on the Thunderbolt’s other flank, will remain. A small slide for children at Lil’ Mates Caribbean Cove also will remain.

Thunderbolt debuted in 1982 as the central thrill ride of Buccaneer Bay, a white-sand beach and water park near the underwater mermaid theater at the spring headwaters. The water park has been a popular summer attraction, since the spring water there is a refreshingly cool 74.6 degrees thanks to more than 100 million gallons a day of spring water entering the lagoon from deep below ground.

Though currently closed due to COVID-19, the park’s normal hours are from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is at 6131 Commercial Way in Spring Hill.

Ticket prices include admission to Buccaneer Bay and all of the park, which features wildlife shows, gardens, a river boat cruise and the underwater mermaid show. They are $13 for adults and $8 for children between 6 and 12. There are family packs and year passes available.

It has not been announced when the park will reopen.

Park projects

Meanwhile, during the closure, work on an erosion control and runoff containment project that is part of the park’s long-range Unit Management Plan continues.

The work, designed to help protect the water quality at the spring and in the river, began in May. By then the park already had been closed along with some other state parks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While other state parks eventually reopened, Weeki Wachee remained closed. Buccaneer Bay would have been closed anyway over summer for the erosion control and runoff catchment work. It always closes in the winter.

A reopening date for the park and Buccaneer Bay has not been announced, though the restoration and control work is slated for completion in the spring.

The current work at the park involves installing erosion control devices to block storm sediment and pollutants from entering the spring. Retention ponds also are being built to hold excess stormwater.

DEP “is committed to providing quality, resource-based recreation for the residents of Florida and visitors to our state,” according to Cronin. “At the same time, DEP is unwavering in its commitment to preserving Florida’s natural resources for future generations.”