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Friday, Mar 27, 2015

Our View: Tourism center money better spent on amenities


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Any attempt to increase tourism in Hernando County is worth considering.

Educating people about everything the Nature Coast has to offer is an important step in bringing tourists to the area and getting them to come back.

But do we need a $6 million education/tourism center to do it?

County plans have been vague about exactly what we’ll find when we visit the proposed center, which won a state appropriation of $3 million that Hernando leaders have pledged to match. Some documents mention exhibits showcasing the natural beauty of Hernando County and the history of the area. There’s also mention of a space for environmental education. That sounds like a nice place to visit. But after you’ve seen it once, would you go back again?

Perhaps our tax dollars would be better spent on an amenity that both residents and tourists can use over and over. Something that allows people to experience the Nature Coast, go home with memories of that experience and want to return to do it again.

Maybe a boardwalk through popular birding areas or more boat ramps to increase access to the Gulf of Mexico and the Weekiwachee River?

We can support increased access to the Weekiwachee Preserve — including a swimming hole, hiking trails, and a canoe and kayak launch — because it’s an amenity that Hernando residents and visitors can enjoy. Providing access to nature is the best way to get people to appreciate it. And those who appreciate nature are more inclined to protect it.

But if there are overreaching environmental concerns with allowing people to picnic and swim at an abandoned mining site, then perhaps the county should find a less “natural” spot.

Hernando County has great things to offer. It’s a story that is easy to tell and we proudly should deliver it to people across the country.

An expanded website and targeted advertising can tell that story for a fraction of the cost of a tourism center.

That likely would mean losing $3 million from the state, but it also would free up the county’s match to spend on amenities that residents of Hernando County and visitors can use over and over.

Let’s get more tourists here, by all means. But once they are here, let’s make sure they have lots of fun things to do.

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