Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
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Details released for proposed tourism center at Weeki Wachee

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Published:   |   Updated: August 24, 2014 at 06:36 PM

State officials wanted details of the proposed $6 million educational-tourism center at Weeki Wachee Springs before committing funding for it.

Hernando Commissioner Dave Russell likewise asked county staffers to develop a concept and show why visitors would take time out of their schedules to stop at such a place. And if that concept wasn’t compelling enough, he said, maybe the county could find better uses for its money.

The details are in along with a conceptual layout of the center. Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will review the plan, which places the facility south of the Weeki Wachee Springs tourist attraction.

“We are anxious to garner input on the feasibility of the concept from (state environmental officials),” said Virginia Singer, the county’s public information manager.

Here are some of the things visitors could expect to see when they enter the center:

♦ There would be a 4,760-square-foot environmental education and tourism area with displays of local ecosystems including native flora, birds, mammals and fish.

The “springs” display, for example, would have bubbling water and information about Weeki Wachee Springs. The forests and rivers display would have animation.

People would be able to see the skeletal structure of the animals, perhaps using animation.

Each display would include an informational video or slide show to educate visitors in an entertaining manner. For example, people could push a button to activate the show or it could be motion-activated to come to life when a person nears a display.

The video and slide show would describe birds, fish and animals in their native habitat, their food sources, mating habits, predators, where to find them in Hernando County and what’s being done to protect them.

For example, people could learn how the red cockaded woodpecker is protected through restoration efforts at Chinsegut Conservation Center by restoring the bird’s habitat in long-leaf pine trees.

♦ There would be an oversized, interactive wall or topographical map that could be scanned or downloaded to a smart phone.

♦ Tourism offices for facility staffers would be housed in the building along with a 600-square-foot conference room and a 120-seat auditorium.

♦ The building also would serve as a trailhead for the state park trail. Visitors might see a butterfly garden and other flowers at the entrance to the trail.

“The mission of the proposed facility is to provide a high-quality, education and nature-based experience to promote ecotourism in Hernando County,” said Brian Malmberg, assistant county administrator for operations.

The center will have exhibits showcasing the “natural beauty and history of Hernando County, the recreational activities available and the importance of good stewardship,” Malmberg wrote in a letter to Sine Murray, the Departmental of Environmental Protection’s assistant chief in its office of park planning.

At a county commission meeting in July, Russell said in order to sell the concept to stakeholders, the county’s staff must develop a firm idea of what it would look like and what people would experience when entering the doors.

“Just because we have $3 million doesn’t mean we have to spend it,” Russell said. “I want to see something that’s viable and that will create a lot of energy in the community.”

Martha Robinson, communications manager with the Florida Park Service, said last month her agency would be interested in collaborating with the county government on some kind of tourism-educational center, but more details were needed to see if it would fit with existing activities at the springs.

State officials have offered to pay half the cost of such a facility — $3 million — if it meets their criteria. Hernando County would contribute another $3 million.

County commissioners might discuss the matter at Tuesday’s meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m. at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St. in downtown Brooksville.

To view the entire meeting agenda, visit http://hernandocountyfl.iqm2.com/citizens/

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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