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Park users capped to reduce traffic on Weeki Wachee River

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On October 25, 2018, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Deputy Secretary of Land and Recreation, David Clark sent an email to Senator Wilton Simpson regarding the latest steps in reducing traffic on the Weeki Wachee River.  The following day, Clark’s office sent a directive to the park’s concessionaire Guest Services, Inc., doing business as Boating in Florida. The directive will cap the number of “users” that can enter the river from Boating in Florida at 280 per day, regardless the number of vessels.

Kent Whittington, Park Business Development Section Leader, Department of Environmental Protection clarified in an email to Scott Shepard, Guest Services Operations Director,

“…this means no more than 140 users at one time can be paddling (having launched from the Park), and a cap of no more than 280 total users daily, for each individual day.”

Area resident Shannon Turbeville contacted Clark and Simpson, as well as other involved officials on October 20, 2018, writing of an upcoming public hearing on the matter, “You will also likely be asked to explain to your constituents how this (planned carrying capacity) study is not a waste of $250,000 tax payer [sic] dollars when DEP refuses to follow its own guidelines and State law at this present time.”

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The guidelines and state law that Turbeville referred to was in a 2011 guide titled, “Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Unit Management Plan,” written by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Text in the guide recommends an “Optimum Carrying Capacity” for canoeing and kayaking of 280. Turbeville has been corresponding with the park and state officials for several months on this matter. Guest Services/Boating in Florida had previously been operating under a cap of 400 vessels launched per day or 70 per hour.

Mr. Clark’s letter to Senator Simpson is as follows:

“Good Evening Senator Simpson,

“On behalf of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and as a follow-up to our conversation, I am providing you with an update on paddling operations at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

“Per our direction to the concessionaire, effective Friday, October 26, 2018, the Park’s paddling operation will launch no more than 280 users (individuals) per day from the Park (regardless of paddle craft type). (Please see the attached correspondence with our concessionaire.)

“In addition, our team will continue to work with our concessionaire to ensure proper controls are in place for accurate reporting. These reports will be monitored daily to augment existing research efforts, such as the recreational carrying capacity and resource impact studies. The data gained from these studies should be helpful in guiding future Unit Management Plan discussions.

“Based on feedback from park users, we will also continue to explore the concept of a short-run take-out within the Park boundary, which would provide Park visitors an option for a shorter paddle experience.

“Senator Simpson, thank you for your leadership in protecting Florida’s incredible natural resources. You have continued to be a champion for your community, while striving to find balance and common ground for all parties involved.

“The State Parks team and I commit to you that we will continue to work with you, the community, the county, the water management district, our citizen support organization, our concessionaire and all stakeholders both internal and external for the perpetuation of this important natural resource.

“As always, should you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to call me. I am happy to assist.

“Respectfully submitted,

David A. Clark

Deputy Secretary

Land and Recreation

Florida Department of Environmental Protection”

The Southwest Florida Water Management District has provided the following information about the upcoming Weeki Wachee River Carrying Capacity study workshop:

“The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will hold a public workshop Thursday, Nov. 8, to share information about the Weeki Wachee Natural System Carrying Capacity Study. The meeting will take place at the Coast Guard Auxiliary Meeting Hall, located at 4340 Calienta St. in Hernando Beach.

“The workshop will be an open-house style allowing the public to arrive at their convenience between 4 p.m. and approximately 6 p.m.

“The purpose of the study is to evaluate how recreational use affects the natural system along the Weeki Wachee River. During the workshop, staff from the District, Hernando County and members of the independent third-party consultant group conducting the study will be available to explain the intent of the study and how the data will be collected.

“The yearlong study will identify areas of the river impacted by recreation. Some methods of the study include counting recreational use on the river through time-lapse cameras, documenting direct impacts to the natural systems, such as prop scars, uprooting of vegetation and unnatural movement of sand, and documenting impacts of human activity like docking, wading and trampling.

“Once the study is completed, the results will be published for public view. The study will not set a specific limit to recreation or address public safety but will provide the science to governing agencies with authority to make future management decisions.

“To learn more about the study, visit WaterMatters.org/projects/springs/weeki-wachee-natural-system-carrying-capacity-study.”

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