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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
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Weeki Wachee park has big plans, needs millions

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Editor’s note: A version of this story published in today’s Hernando Today newspaper.

WEEKI WACHEE — Aesthetic and environmental improvement projects are proposed for Weeki Wachee Springs State Park — notably at Buccaneer Bay, which is part of the vintage Hernando County tourist attraction known for its live “mermaid” shows.

Officials with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection have been visiting the park and working with staffers there since March, and last month they solidified a conceptual master plan, said Sine Murray, assistant bureau chief at the Office of Park Planning.

The plan offers more details on implementing goals that park officials came up with in June 2011.

“We identified more of a big-picture, broad land concept for the recreation facilities, and in that plan we identified plans to come back to Weeki Wachee, and focus specifically on the historic attraction area at Buccaneer Bay,” Murray said. “On the master plan there were a lot of detail issues, and need to improve walkways and facilities, and that’s the second phase we completed in early December.”

The Weeki Wachee Springs attraction opened in 1947. Buccaneer Bay, a water-slide park that shares the spring and Weeki Wachee River headwaters with the attraction, opened in 1982.

Among environmental projects planned for the park is one to remove some asphalt from the attraction’s parking lot next to U.S. 19, said park Manager Toby Brewer.

He said the parking lot poses an environmental threat because it makes it easier for polluted water to flow into the spring system during heavy rains.

“It’s just one big desert of asphalt, so the idea is to put some vegetation in and some lighting, and (make) the surface more pervious rather than running it (tainted rainwater) off into ditches and springs,” said Brewer. “With the asphalt out there, it’s just a lot of heat, so anytime you can get more plants involved is a good thing.”

Other priorities include establishing a park museum with educational components, and possibly adding a bridge across the Weeki Wachee river, connecting both sides of the park, said park Spokesman John Athanason.

Athanason and state officials predict the improvements would cost about $8.7 million, most of which currently is not available.

“We’re not getting this money next year, or next month; it could be 20 years down the road,” Athanason said.

Much of the funding for capital improvements would come through private donations, fundraising efforts and volunteer organizations such as Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs, Murray said.

Murray said her office is looking for help from other agencies such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

There are no projected completion dates for any of the improvement projects, Murray said, though the state agency has secured funding already for one of the park’s projects. “The sidewalk improvements in phase one were funded through the annual Legislature, which is aimed at improving safety and mobility in the park,” she said.

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