Silver Springs: Florida Tourist Attraction Closes

by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)

Silver Springs Vintage Postcard

Silver Springs Vintage Postcard

Silver Springs Vintage Postcard
Water Nymphs at Silver Springs
Boat At Silver Springs

Sunday, September 15, 2013 was the last day of operation for Silver Springs as a private entity. Starting on October 1, 2013 it will be operated as a state park.

Silver Springs was one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions. Even before the pioneer settlers came to the area, the Timucuan Indians were living in the area they called Ocali, and enjoying the pure clear artesian waters of the springs. The Spanish decimated the Timucuans, and they were succeeded in later years by the Seminoles. Today, all of the glass bottom boats at Silver Springs are named after leaders of the Seminole tribe.

Silver Springs discharges into the Silver River which flows to the St. Johns. This opened up the area to Jacksonville and the rest of the world. Tourists began to flock to the springs to enjoy the climate and the pure crystal clear water.

The popularity increased even more as the glass bottom boat was invented in 1878. Tourists could look through a glass viewing box in the bottom of a dugout canoe and see the clear underwater world with its natural creatures.

Over the following years, the boats got bigger, hotels were built and in those pre-Disney days the attraction thrived. In the early 1930s, Ross Allen, a snake expert, founded the Silver Springs Reptile Institute. He was skilled in milking the venom from the fangs of rattlesnakes and other snakes; the venom was use as antidote for snake bites and research.

Not long after Ross Allen came on the scene, the operator of the Jungle Cruise boat ride decided to put a small colony of rhesus monkeys on a nearby island in the Silver River. The monkeys quickly escaped and settled all along the river. Their descendants are still living in the wild even today.

Six Tarzan movies, starring Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, were filmed at Silver Springs in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Later on in the late 1950s and early 1960s, more than 100 episodes of "Sea Hunt", starring Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelsen, were filmed at Silver Springs.

In the 1960s the attraction was expanded by 3,900 newly acquired acres, and in 1972 Silver Springs was registered as a Natural Landmark by the U.S. Dept of Interior and the National Park Service. In the 1970s Wild Waters was opened; it was a seasonal water park. There was also a petting zoo, a Jeep safari, and a downriver attraction called "Lost River Voyage".

A Don Garlits antique and race car museum opened, along with a "White Alligator Exhibit".

Although the public enjoyed these new features within the Silver Springs attraction, it did not do well enough to survive.

The land is now owned by the State of Florida and on October 1, 2013, will reopen as a state park.

Comments for Silver Springs: Florida Tourist Attraction Closes

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Jun 29, 2016
by: Deb Carpenter Terry

Born in 57 and raised in Ocala, Silver Springs was a large part of growing up.

Reading the other comments it all comes back to me: the people, the beauty and the smells of happier times. Our neighborhood spent most days swimming there. All we needed was a ride out there and trust me, there were many car loads dropped off! I cannot imagine that today.

We were unsupervised but we were responsible and well behaved. Ross would have straightened us out if need be. I moved away in 89 but came back for a visit in 2013 and the Springs was on my list.

I met an old friend and we sat where the beach had been and reminisced of the good ole' days.

Apr 20, 2015
It's now 2015
by: Mike O'Neal

I was born in Ocala in 1936, left when I graduated OHS in 1954. Last May I went back to my 60th HS reunion. My wife and I went out to the Springs, unfortunately it was an unseasonably cold day but I was pleasantly surprised to see what the state was doing I had heard "nightmare" stories and wasn't sure what to expect .

The water is clear and the glass bottom boats still are there. You can't swim but you can rent a canoe, I didn't, too cold.

I was a member of the swim team that used to practice there in 1954 and I used to hitchhike there every day I could from the time I was 13 or 14. It was where all the cool kids played, nice beach.

Remember the "float" and the 20 foot diving platform. My father was a great friend of Carl Ray and we saw him a lot. I just had lunch with Molly Ray here in in NYC , she was Hugh Ray's brother and must have the last Ray in R, D & R. She has a daughter in NY. Her brother Walter was a couple of years behind me and also went to Emory after me. He became a doctor , he died a couple of years ago.

We talked about Ocala and Silver Spings the whole time. If anybody reads this and you are ever in NYC give me a call, 212 799 7892.

Best to all,


Jun 14, 2014
Such Interesting Stories
by: Amy Flingos

WOW Thank you all for sharing your stories. It was so interesting to hear all of the Silver Springs history on this thread! Thank you very much!

Mar 17, 2014
A great time to be young.
by: Jim Colson

I too lived in Ocala from 1949 to 1954. I loved to go to Silver Springs to swim and visit the shops and Ross Allen's. I also was on the OHS swim team in the spring of '54 and we rode out to the springs and back in an open trailer to practice before the city pool was filled with water. I also had the pleasure of swimming as an extra in two short subject films. Along with many others I would swim on occasion in the park area at night after the Thursday teen dances at the armory. Also, as others did, we would hide in the "Tarzan Tree" on the river and scream and jump into the river as the jungle cruse boat would go by. I'm glad to see it become a state park. Now maybe it will be better taken care of.

Oct 20, 2013
Correction to auto museum description.
by: Larry Wagner

Originally known as Carriage Calvacade, the Early American Museum was not associated with Don Garlits. Vernon Jarvis was the owner of the collection of roughly 100 antique carriages and motor cars. Later, in the early '80's I think, his estate sold the collection to the Silver Springs attraction whereupon it was moved into the old Morrison's Cafeteria building on park grounds. I worked in various capacities at the Museum for the original curator, Sidney Strong and later Dick Mauller. Those days were remembered with fondness.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS: Larry, thanks for the correction.

Oct 15, 2013
Seems Like Yesterday
by: B.Peacock Carlson

My Silver Springs memories began in 1944 when my family moved to Ocala from Miami. We owned a horse & cattle ranch, & I rescued little wild animal babies who were hurt or orphaned. In about 1947 I sold a pair of baby raccoons that I had nurtured & trained to Ross Allen. They could stand on hind legs at command, shake hands, follow the human leader without leashes, take a treat gently from your mouth, & sit on your shoulder & chatter. Ross added them to his show & they were a big hit with the public! I also had many publicity shots done with glass-bottomed boats & Springs in background for various local beauty contests. Difficult to believe a whole lifetime has passed. Hopefully, it will be preserved for coming generations to appreciate.

Oct 13, 2013
Memories Are Made of These
by: Anonymous

The words to Dean Martin's classic song:"Memories Are Made of This" can certainly be applied to those days spent at Silver Springs. Remembering the times hitchiking or catching rides any way I could, travelling the,then two-lane, tree-lined State Rd 40, (aka Oklawaha Ave; SS Blvd, then enjoying the white sandy beach, the float, the divng boards, and, oh yes, the brrr 72-degree cystal clear spring water; the glass-bottome boats, the Jungle Cruise.

And, of course spending time picnicking with family in the park, enjoying the serenity of it's beauty.

These are what good, clean, wholesome memories are made of, memories of a bygone era, a time when innocence took center stage, a time indelibly stamped in the memory of those who were
privileged to be a part of, and those who contributed to, this time in history.

While the "new" Silver Springs State Park may fill some of the void of the past, it will never be quite the same.

Oct 06, 2013
Paradise Park, Silver Springs
by: Lu Vickers

Hello--I am wondering if anyone out there knows anything about Paradise Park, "the colored park" owned by Silver Springs.

I am in the process of writing a book about PP and have done numerous interviews and lots of research, but I am always looking for more. If you have a PP story, please get in touch with me at

Put "Paradise Park" in the heading. Thanks so much!

Sep 21, 2013
Thanks for your comments
by: Florida Backroads Travel

Thanks to all of you who have shared your experiences at Silver Springs. We can all hope that the new attraction will be good after the State takes over.

Sep 21, 2013
Best Teenage Years At Silver Springs
by: Wanda Gail Henderson

I was hired at age 15 by Ted Wood to work in the gift shop at Silver Springs, continued to work as a lifeguard every summer in high school, including working for Bill Blue Ray and Ricou Browning in the office, did underwater ballet for the tourists in the glass-bottom boats on my lunch hours, did the snake around-the-neck routine at Ross Allens (even elephant routine with his foot on my tummy!!!!), fed the 24' anaconda daily, Ross's son, Tommy, taught me to scuba dive, did cheesecake photos with Bruce Mozert, got my annual silver dollar at Christmas from Shorty Davidson, was a double for some of the underwater shots for SeaHunt, worked on some of the underwater features seen under the glass bottom boats, met celebrities visiting the Springs for movies, i.e., Jane Russell, Debbie Reynolds, Richard Egan, etc. This was the most exciting job a teenager could have...the 1950-60s Springs was my life and I will cherish the way it was, the people I met, the thrill it gave me. I pray, too, that the Springs will return. Wanda Gail Henderson

Sep 20, 2013
Swim practice
by: Art Cooley

In my senior year at Ocala High our swim team practiced here until the unheated city pool warmed up. The temperature at Silver Springs was 72 year round. It felt pretty cold in the summer, but really nice in the winter.

Sep 20, 2013
by: Kathy Ryan Cole

I, too, enjoyed the Springs from the early 1950s on. The grounds were exquisite, beautifully kept up, making it a wonderful place for a nature walk.
It was a real treat to be able to swim at Silver Springs; I am excited over this feature returning when it becomes a state park.
One feature that was spectacular was Paul Cunningham's Prince of Peace Memorial - wooden carvings of well known Biblical scenes with exacting details and housed in seven, I believe, individual chapels.
In the early 1950s, a Seminole Indian family lived at Silver Springs, and one little girl, Onnie Shore, was a classmate of mine at Wyomina Park Elementary School.

Sep 19, 2013
by: Dianne Campbell Cruce

Silver Springs was very much a part of my life growing up. My parents use to take my brother, Don, and I there to swim starting when we were very small children. It was a beautiful place with clear, clear water.

Going to the Springs to swim was always fun. You always knew someone there. If you got tired of swimming you could always go on the glass bottom boat or the Jungle Cruise. Then there was Ross Allen's where they milked rattle snakes. When Don and Phillip McClennan were life guards at the Springs I would go with them quite a bit, when I go bored I would go see Ross Allen & he would let me take Mandy, the Wooley Monkey, around on a leash. I would stroll around the park to advertise the Reptile Institute. If I didn't have Mandy they would wind an Indigo snake around my neck and do the same thing.

With Silver Springs being named a State Park maybe it will go back to the natural beauty that it once was before Ray, Davidson and Ray sold it. Under their ownership it was a wonderful place to go for family fun and enjoyment. Hopefully the Springs will finally get white sand and not have algea covered rocks as they have now.

Sep 19, 2013
early memories
by: neese chambers morris

I grew up at Silver Springs. My daddy Bob Chambers was the manager of Ross Allen's reptile institute. I was best friends with Becky Boyett whose mom was Patsy the manager of the beach. my sister Sharon Chambers was a life guard at the beach. Great times to be a kid and get to enjoy the beauty of Silver Springs. Hope it will be restored to its former glory.

Sep 19, 2013
Remebering when......
by: Janice Blauser Ray

I was born and raised in Ocala and it was a given that you and your friends frequented Silver Springs for swimming. We would go in and pay 10 cents, be given the ribbon around your wrist and rent a wire basket to put your valuables in. The only way to get in that cold water was to dive! There were 3 floats to swim to in the deep part. We would also visit the Seminole Village across from the beach and I still have the Seminole doll my uncle bought for me. When out-of-town guests came in we would also visit the Prince of Peace and distinctly remember the chapel that portrayed The Lord's Supper. Wish the Springs could be turned back to what it once was so this generation could enjoy the memories I hold so close to my heart.

Sep 19, 2013
Remembering when.....
by: Janice Blauser Ray

Having been born and raised in Ocala, it was a given to go with friends swimming at Silver Springs. Remember having to put a ribbon around your wrist, renting a basket to put your valuables in and heading to the wonderful cold water. Only way to get in was to dive in! There were 3 pontoon floats out in the deep in to swim to. Use to go to the Seminole Village and even have a doll that my uncle bought me when I was little. Remember the Prince of Peace and especially the little chapel building that house The Lord's Supper. Remember the glass bottom boat rides (Oscar was our favorite guide) and the trip wasn't complete without the football made of bread to see who would win game between the catfish and brim. I wish they could revive the Springs to be like it was - allow the generation now to have the precious memories I hold near and dear to my heart.

Sep 19, 2013
Army/Navy Game
by: Foy Underwood

Growing up in Ocala, Silver Springs was the place to take any out-of-town company. I graduated from Ocala High in 1959 and spent 30 years in the Navy and came back. Some great memories of the Springs both swimming (water sure felt cold) and boating. Used to sell snakes to Ross Allen when I ran across some on our place. Coral, Rattlers and Indigos. One of my most enjoyable memories was of the Army/Navy game. Over one of the springs a little down river, the glass bottom boat captain would take a hand-full of fresh bread and make a tight ball and throw in the water. The larger brim would feed and keep it close to the top but the big catfish would come up off the bottom and take it deeper. It was amazing how many fish there were. When back in the 80s and almost no fish there. Hope things will improve now

Sep 19, 2013
Times Gone By
by: Charlotte Chambless

We're excited over the prospect of the "Springs" becoming a state park. Like many of you, we have been terribly disappointed at the decline of this beautiful natural park when it was being run by "big business" interests. We, too, remember the '50's park. Jim was a life guard and I took up the tickets at the beach for two summers. Jim was even used as a "model" in some of their advertisements. He was "prettier" than I was. The swimming, boat rides, Ross Allen, and the park were big draws then. In later years Jim and 3 of our girls participated in canoe races down the run a short distance. We take our boat up Silver River now and are devastated by the algae all over the sea grass and the lack of fish in the water. Very sad. We're hoping the "Springs" will become a frequent destination for those interested in the environment and want to enjoy "natural" Florida. Time will tell!

Sep 19, 2013
Another Unwelcomed Change...
by: OHS Class of '59

...or is it? I suppose the change came about when Silver Springs became commercialized rather than the place of natural beauty we all remember from our childhood days.

In the early '50's my mom and dad would pack a picnic lunch and we would spend Sunday afternoons after church in a beautiful environment that is so scarce in today's world of asphalt and concrete.

There were also school field trips where we were able to watch the rattle snakes being milked at Ross Allen's Reptile Institute. And as we all got older there was no place better than the little beach at Silver Springs to go and swim where it was guaranteed you would run into someone you knew.

In recent years my husband and I returned to the state on vacation and couldn't wait to show off Silver Springs to our grandchildren only to find it was nothing like I remembered. Ticket prices just to enter the grounds were outrageous and then to see some of the natural habitat changed to artificial was sad.

I'm not surpised it's closing and those who think they waited too long might be glad they did since the old Silver Springs hasn't been there for a long time. Now maybe as a State Park it will be more like we remember it from the good ole days!!

Sep 19, 2013
My Recollectons of Ross Allen's Reptile Institute
by: Anonymous

When I was a boy of about 13, my mother ran a restaurant in Ocala (the Flamingo, which at the time was next to the current Flamingo Motel). Several of the men who worked at Ross Allen's Reptile Institute as "Guides" ate breakfast almost every day and the restaurant and, as you might imagine,I was VERY impressed with their stories about milking rattlesnakes, handling gators, etc.
Eventually, I would ride out to the Springs with them on Saturday mornings (no school!), spend the day at Ross Allen's following them around and doing little odd-jobs. On a good day, they'd let me hold some of the non-poisonous snakes as they lectured about them to the tourists. I thought I was big stuff!!
For many years now I've intended to go back one more time to see the Springs, ride the Glass Bottom Boats and visit the animal park that replaced Ross Allen's. Guess I waited too long!!
Bob Faust

Sep 19, 2013

I am glad that Silver Springs will be keep alive.
That is the most beautiful place. I grew up going to the Springs every Sat. to swim and meet up the the girls and boys. mainly the boys. My father Tommie Lee Summers did some underwater work on the Tarzan movies and some of the earlier movies made at the the springs. He was in the Distant Drums with 6 other men for the Ocala area. I took my boys when they were little to the Deer Ranch. That was the good old days. When we went on the glass bottom boats we could see catfish 5 feet long. There were a lot of fish to see. Ross Allen was good to see. Dad would catch snakes and sell them to Ross so he could milk them. In 1959 caught 2 otters when they where just born. we raised them to get grown. they would follow us around like cats. They were great pets. The city made us get rid of them and Ross Allen's wife bought them and kept the at their home. Ross took them Silver Springs and my brother Mickey and I would go out there just to see them. When the movie from Walt Disney came about Otters they used our otters. They where Stinky and Squeaky. Silver Springs will be a wonderful place for families to go and visit. I am so glad its not going away. It will always be a part of our past wonderful memories. Sandy

Sep 19, 2013
by: Dr. James Fleming

I was a Soda Jerk at the refreshment/ice cream shop one summer during high school. Had a great time, met loads of wonderful people...including the photographers at the photo shop next door, and spent a lot of time at Ross Allen's with my friend (and one of Ross' boys - John Roess). But I am happy the state is taking it over for all to enjoy.

Sep 19, 2013
Great Attraction
by: will conyers

my uncle drove the jungle cruise boat for more than 25 years at the springs, and I have been up and down that river many times, and also riding the glass bottom boats. Ross Allens was another favorite of mine, and I watched Sea Hunt being filmed there. I have so many memories, I wish I could go back and do it all over again. I am sorry to hear that its closing.

Sep 19, 2013
by: Petey rich

My first real job was as a lifeguard at silver springs. Great memories!!!

Sep 19, 2013
Beautiful Silver Springs
by: Faye (Perkins) Miller

I am so happy about getting rid of all the commercialism that took the Springs away from us. I learned to swim there while attending Girl Scout Day Camp in the early '40's. When I was a girl the Springs were our (Ocala/ Marion County's)) private Eden, where we took guests to visit and enjoy the natural beauty. In my adult years I felt like aliens had turned it into a junky longer "our" Springs. I pray the state will return it to its' former pristine glory.

Sep 19, 2013
by: B. L. Cookson

I am happy to hear it, at least we don't have to worry about it getting run into the ground someday.

Sep 18, 2013
Memories of a better attraction
by: Dale Summers

The “old” Silver Springs of the 1950s and 1960s holds a special place in my memories as I worked in the Photo Shop from 1957 to 1963, taking thousands of souvenir photos on the glass bottom and jungle cruise boats to be sold to the tourists. That was a time when the employees at the Springs were more like a family than co-workers. Every Christmas, we looked forward to Mr. Davidson (of Ray, Davidson and Ray, the owners at that time) walking around handing out a silver dollar to each employee. I was saddened when I heard that they were selling the Springs to MGM. To me, that’s when the decline really began, when a family run attraction became a solely commercial venture.

Those were the days when the waters from the main spring flowed clear and clean and the bottom of the spring was sandy white, not covered with aquatic plants like it is today. Fish swam by the thousands beneath the glass bottom boats, where they swim by the dozens now. The restaurant served wonderful meals and watercolors painted by Paul Cunningham, the owner and creator of the Prince of Peace Memorial lined the walls by the main entrance. I made a visit with my wife to the Springs a few years ago and was shocked by the decline of a once great attraction. Instead of a restaurant, we found pre-packaged sandwiches and a beer and pizza place.

The swimming beach was a welcome place to be after a days work or on a day off. We also went swimming there when I was a child. I remember one winter evening when the temperature was in the 50s, my friend Jim Hunt (who drove a jeep for the Deer Ranch) and I planned to go swimming in the warm 72 degree water after work. It was after the beach was closed that we drove near the beach gate, changed into swim trunks in the car then ran and jumped in the water. We weren’t there very long before someone came over and ran us out. The run back to the car in wet trunks was colder than the trip to the water.

It is fitting that further decline of the Springs has been prevented by closing the commercial part and I have hopes that the natural beauty can be restored…at least to some extent. I look forward to going back one day to see how it has changed once again, hopefully for the better.

Sep 18, 2013
by: Charles Holder

Maybe the Springs will return to the place I remember in my teens. We were not charged to enter the grounds and could wander all over. We could go swimming, for a nominal charge, and picnic if we liked. it was a place a person with limited resources could come and spend hours, if they wanted, just enjoying nature. I can remember going swimming at night on more than one occasion (definitely frowned upon). Hopefully the state will restore the Springs to its natural beauty.

Sep 18, 2013
by: A. Dixon

My husband and I spent our honeymoon there in 1955. Our motel room had a round bed and a little boy groom and little girl bride picture on the wall.We wore matching t-shirts and shorts while sight-seeing. We have wonderful memories.

Sep 18, 2013
Sweet Memories
by: J Larry Todd

I moved to Ocala with my parents just after WWII in '47. I grew up in Ocala and spent many wonderful and sweet hours at Silver Springs, swimming in the cold fresh waters and enjoying its natural beauty. I remember finding several arrowheads on the white sandy bottom. There was a float and a diving tower. All my friends went to the "Springs" as we referred to it, and enjoyed it. Loved Ross Allen's Reptile exhibit and learned a great deal about snakes, especially rattlers. I too am happy that the State is taking over and that it will be preserved for future generations to see. However, I am sad they will not also be able to see some of the other interesting attractions which were available to us as children, living and growing up in beautiful, friendly, Ocala.

Sep 18, 2013
Silver Springs Survives - Hooray
by: Tom Winfield

Will the State keep the glass bottom boat rides? I am supposing they will. I hope they will allow swimming, too. Actually, I like seeing the State take over. I never cared for the attractions. I loved the beach, swimming over the main boil, seeing big gators on the bottom beneath me. I liked the Jungle Cruise. My friends and I dove out of a Tarzan tree a ways down Silver Run, to thrill the tourists. We dove flailing and yelling 40 feet to the water and cannon-balled to make a big splash. They took pictures of us, like we were wild boys from the jungle. That was Ocala High School, 1950-54. We also parked and sparked at the Springs at night. Then, you could drive into the place and park on the Run, away from the main area. I used to jog 6 miles from downtown to the Springs, swim a while, look the girls over, then run 6 miles back to town, in time for supper. I never knew the commercial history of the Springs went back into the 1800s, and many moons before that the Timacuan Indians lived there. I never knew they called the area "Ocali", and that's how our beloved town got its name. I came to Ocala in 1950 for the 9th grade, and left in 1954 as an OHS grad headed to FSU. My parents moved that year to Savannah and I never got back to Ocala, as my journey took me into the Marines and then the University of Georgia, then off into newspaper journalism. But I remember the Springs like it was yesterday. Like all of us, I loved that place. It was a big part of my growing up.

Sep 18, 2013
by: Joyce Swindle

Growing up in Ocala I spent most of my teen years during the summer at the springs on the beach. I have many wonderful memories of these years (learned to swim there too). Also worked one summer in one of the gift shops. This was a great time to grow up and having the Springs for entertainment was great.

So good to know the State it going to take care of it to maintain it's beauty.

Sep 18, 2013
Sweet water
by: T. Tillman

I learned to swim at Silver Springs in the late 1940s' while growing up in Ocala. It was a wonderful place to picnic and take dates. I am happy it will be run as a State park.

Sep 18, 2013

I'm glad to see it's gonna be protected by the State. But it's a shame another private business has failed and the government owns more of what was privately owned land.

Sep 17, 2013
Silver Springs
by: Anonymous

Silver Springs is one of my fondest childhood memories. I am sad to hear of its closing because others won't get to experience the wonder of seeing into another world. I too am glad that it will be protected, too many precious things are being lost.

Sep 17, 2013
Silver Springs - A Florida Legend
by: Greg May

Did you know SIlver Springs exhibited a pair of Amazon white freshwater dolphins back in the fifties? They were cared for by Ricou Browning, who later became the director of the TV series, 'Flipper'.

Also in the early sixties a unique underwater aquarium called 'Aquatorium' was constructed by the outboard manufacturer Kiekhaefer and towed from Jacksonville to Silver Springs.

When I was a kid, my family took a 'boat-a-cade' with other families from our church. We put in at Lake Griffin and cruised - through the locks - sixty miles up into Silver Springs. I went out on the bow of my parent's boat and started feeding my banana to a monkey that was perched on an overhanging tree limb.

Later that day we went swimming in the Silver River and I stepped on something that slithered out from under my foot! I never went back in the water that day.

Sep 17, 2013
Sacred Silver Springs
by: Anita Monroe

What a relief that Silver Springs will be protected as a park. It is one of the most beautiful, peaceful, sacred places in the world. I am hoping that the new administrators will take away the extraneous "attractions" and leave the beauty of the place to speak for itself.
If there is a fund to help protect this special place, I'll be glad to contribute.

Sep 17, 2013
State takes over Silver Springs
by: Julie Brown

Thanks for keeping us informed and updated Mike.

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