For decades, the one-of-a-kind attraction known as Weeki Wachee Springs Park has served Hernando County as a place of enchantment, entertainment, and incredible natural beauty. And now, the place that has brought magic to so many is receiving a much needed funding boost from a top state agency.
Florida Humanities, the statewide, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), has awarded the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park a $14,500 grant for general operating costs. The grant is intended to help the park recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More specifically the grant has been awarded to The Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs’ Citizen Support Organization (CSO) which was formed in 2009 by a group of passionate volunteers who wanted to protect and help sustain Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. As a CSO, it is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization with oversight by the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks. Their mission is to promote the use, preservation, and enhancement of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
“The Park was closed to visitors for an entire year,” explained Gail Anderson, Board Member, Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The closure prevented the “Friends” from conducting their usual round of fundraising events needed to supplement the operations of the Park, as well as the operating expenses of the Friends organization.
“We had to withdraw savings from our capital improvement account to cover these expenses,” Anderson explained. These operating expenses range from emergency repairs such as the needed replacement of the landmark mermaid pillar above the fountain positioned at the park entry, to mermaid costumes, air tanks for divers who clean the springs, website and social media features like the popular “Tail Mail” mermaid fan mail program, decorative lights for park Christmas festivities, etc.
Then the “Friends” found a friend, in the form of Rebecca Schwandt, author of “Revisiting Roadside Attractions: A ‘Deep Dive’ into Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs.” Anderson shared, “A couple of years ago, she wrote a history of Weeki Wachee. She told me about the grant, which was due in four days. We pulled the statistics and the other info we needed together in one morning. We got it in!”
Anderson, a lifelong Weeki Wachee fan who once swam in water herself at one of the park’s signature mermaid camps, says that the grant was greatly needed to support the park and waters that hold great significance to her. “We did it!” she exclaimed. “The monies awarded from this ARP grant are greatly appreciated and will replace our CSO’s (Citizen Support Organization) annual operating costs for the closed year. We can now move forward with some planned enhancement projects for improving the Park.”
The NEH received $135 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021, which was approved by Congress this past spring. The state humanities councils, including Florida Humanities, each received a portion of the NEH award to support museums, archives, historic sites and other humanities-focused nonprofits. Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park was one of 129 organizations in Florida that was awarded ARP funding totaling $1.88 million from Florida Humanities. The grants are intended to meet immediate operational needs in order for organizations to remain viable and maintain delivery of public humanities programming and resources in their communities. Florida Humanities received 188 applications for ARP funding, with nonprofits requesting the most funds for staffing and utilities. Florida Humanities Executive Director Dr. Nashid Madyun stated, “These funds provide a safety net for the organizations so they can focus on other priorities, such as fundraising and creating programming. For smaller nonprofits, when bills are paid and staff are safe and intact, that type of alleviation is immeasurable. Florida Humanities is honored to provide a lifeline to our state’s cultural and historic organizations, ensuring they continue to enrich their local communities, and the Sunshine State at large, for years to come.”
Funding for this grant was provided by Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and NEH sustaining the humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) initiative. Florida Humanities is a statewide, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, dedicated to preserving, promoting, and sharing the history, culture, and personal stories that offer Floridians a better understanding of their communities and their state. Since 1973, Florida Humanities has awarded more than $16 million in support of statewide cultural resources and public programs strongly rooted in the humanities. These programs preserve Florida’s diverse history and heritage, promote civic engagement and community dialogue, and provide opportunities to reflect on the future of Florida. Learn more at www.FloridaHumanities.org.
When asked to describe in a single word the feeling that she got when notified of this sustaining grant, Anderson shared that she was thrilled!