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Weeki Wachee River Summit, May 3

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The Weeki Wachee River is a community landmark, a sparkling tourist attraction, and a vital waterway here in Hernando County. On May 3, the public is invited to learn more about these much discussed springs.

The Sierra Club and other local conservation organizations, in cooperation with county and state experts and local stakeholders, are planning the Weeki Wachee River Summit: Protecting Florida’s Most Beautiful River to heighten awareness of the river, an event set to take place 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 3 at the Pasco Hernando State College, Spring Hill Campus, 450 Beverly Court, Spring Hill.
“We want to reach local residents, riverside property owners, river kayak and boating businesses, and springs lovers to showcase all the different efforts underway to restore it,” said DeeVon Quirolo, Sierra Club Adventure Coast Chair.

The goal of this event is to address the present and future conditions of our waters, as well as to describe future initiatives by Hernando County and state agencies to protect, maintain and restore river conditions.

“The Weeki Wachee River is a precious resource, an Outstanding Florida Spring,” said Quirolo. “It is the source of our drinking water, a site for employment opportunities and recreation for our residents, and a destination for tourists and travelers.”

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“Who doesn’t want to come see the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs,” Quirolo asked.

The summit is being hosted by a consortium of Hernando County conservation organizations, including Sierra Club Adventure Coast Group, Hernando Audubon Society, Florida Native Plant Society–Hernando Chapter, and the Weeki Wachee River Rescue Team.

The summit will include compelling discussions regarding topics such as nutrient loading, the improvement of river habitat and water quality, and the rich mosaic of present and future remedies being implemented to restore and enhance the Weeki Wachee River and Springs.

“Nutrient loading promotes algae growth, which kills the sea grasses that feed the manatees,” said event co-coordinator Tom St. Clair, conservation chairman of the Hernando Audubon Society.
St. Clair feels that events such as the Weeki Wachee River Summit are vital to the health and sustenance of the river and surrounding areas.

“Our primary purpose in hosting the summit will be to inform the community of all the initiatives that Hernando County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District are undertaking to improve and preserve the Weeki Wachee River,” he said, adding, “We really hope that people will come out to be informed, and empowered to help–so that we can conserve the springs for future generations.”

Event co-coordinator Jilan Crowley, secretary of the Sierra Club Adventure Coast, agrees.
“The Weeki Wachee River is a magnificent fixture of our landscape,” said Crowley. “We want to let people know what is being done to preserve and protect this area–and what they can do to help. It’s important that each of us do our part.”

Featured speakers at the summit will include Eugene Kelly, Vice Chair of the Sierra Club Adventure Coast, who will offer an overview of the Weeki Wachee River and Springs.

In addition, Hernando County representatives will provide vital updates regarding the Springs Protection Zone, watershed improvements, and other initiatives intended to protect the river and watershed.

Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Madison Trowbridge will address the crowd regarding the ongoing dredging project and other District initiatives.

Tammy Heon, Director of Hernando County Tourist Development, will address the value of the Weeki Wachee Springs & River to the local economy here in Hernando County.

“The message we like to impart to tourists is ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints,'” said Heon. “We welcome everyone to Weeki Wachee River, and we want to help prevent the ‘overloving’ of the river.”

Through the responsible use and treatment of the Weeki Wachee River, Heon says, all who visit the river can help preserve what she sees as “the most beautiful river in the state of Florida.”

“Economically, environmentally, ecologically, the Weeki Wachee Spring is an incredible resource. And Weeki Wachee Springs is our largest attraction here in Hernando County,” she said. “And as they boat, paddle and kayak the river, people are encouraged to be responsible.”

Matt Vinzant and Andy Pitkin of Karst Underwater Research will discuss the vast network of underground connections to the Weeki Wachee River.

Brittany Hall Scharf, UF IFAS Hernando Extension and Tiare ‘TJ’ Fridrich, Manatee Biologist with Save the Manatee Club, will speak on the topic of Environmental Education Along the Weeki Wachee River and Protecting the Manatees in the WWR.

Also, at this event, student activist Jasmine Tavares of the Sierra Club Adventure Coast will lead a panel discussion that will bring a youthful perspective to its central subject.

“What the young people of this area need to understand is that this is their land, their water, their future,” she said. “We need to get more young people involved in this cause.”

The summit will culminate with a panel discussion featuring local officials and organization representatives, including Hernando County Administrator Jeff Rogers, Commissioner John Allocco, Madison Trowbridge, George Foster, Shannon Turbeville, and Taylor Masnjak, who will discuss the future of the Weeki Wachee River and how together we can restore it for future generations.

The summit is free and open to the public; RSVP at bit.ly/49zRvn3. For further information, contact [email protected].

“The Weeki Wachee River and Springs is a precious water resource,” said Quirolo. “We must work together to bring the river back to a sustainable condition.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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