State and federal officials have talked for years about opening the spring to wild manatees. Those efforts got a boost in 2006 when a dredge project took place to deepen the area just outside the park so manatees could swim right up to the gate and look inside at their captive cousins.
The captive manatees, which are all female, will continue to live at the park, but in a smaller fenced area within the bowl of the spring. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's goal is to eventually release into the wild as many captive manatees as possible.