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Weeki Wachee River may soon become a protected spring zone

To the left, a yellow kayak on crystal clear blue water. To the right, a docked kayak with two snorkelers swimming in Weeki Wachee River.
Courtesy: Julio Ochoa
A recent study found that visitors disembarking from kayaks cause vegetation loss and soil erosion.

Hernando County hopes the designation will curtail the degradation of the natural resource.

Changes may be coming for tourists visiting the Weeki Wachee River next year.

Hernando County voted last week to ask the state to make Weeki Wachee River a springs protection zone.

The designation, created by the Florida Legislature earlier this year, would stop boaters and other revelers from anchoring or mooring on the river's shore. The move is the latest attempt by the Board of Hernando County Commissioners to stop the degradation of the beloved river by kayakers, boaters and others.

Jeff Rogers, Hernando County Administrator, said the designation would minimize the degradation of the natural resource. In the past, visitors have gone to the springs to hang out, swim, walk the shoreline, climb trees, etc, he added.

If the designation is approved, those activities will cease. Visitors would still be able to enjoy the sparkling waters — without eroding the river's shore and causing harm to the area, Rogers said.

Visitors will still be able to paddle and kayak the river, but not stop to hang out on the shore, he said.

A year-long study presented to the commission in 2020 found that people disembarking from their kayaks caused the most harm to the natural resource. Visitors mooring and walking ashore and their activities onshore has led to erosion of the vegetation and loss of organic soil.

The measure will work because the springs will "no longer be a destination place for more intensive recreation," Rogers said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is slated to finalize the rule later this year, he said. After that, the County could implement the changes at Weeki Wachee by next spring.

"These are tough decisions,” he said. “But in the long-term the Weeki Wachee River is a unique enough and an amazing natural resource that it should be protected."

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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