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Chinsegut Hill could be nice lure to bring tourists to Hernando

Heck, it took only 22 months to build the Eiffel Tower.

From the time the first shovel hit the dirt until the ribbon-cutting for the Empire State Building, a mere 15 months passed.

Legend has it that Jack Kerouac taped together his famous roll of paper, loaded up on amphetamines, and three weeks later had banged out a draft of On the Road.

So, when it comes to Chinsegut Hill, the obvious question is: What is taking so long?

In May 2009, the University of South Florida, which had held the lease for Chinsegut Hill since 1958, announced it was losing $100,000 a year running the facility as a conference center.

It closed the Manor House and the nearby cabins on July 1 last year.

Two months later, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission emerged as the savior of the hill, maybe the most historic and scenic point in Hernando County.

The commission agreed to take on the lease and maintain the 115-acre grounds. The Hernando County tourism development office would collect rent from the seven cabins on the hill. The Hernando Historical Museum Association accepted the big job of holding together — and eventually restoring — the somewhat dilapidated Manor House, which it plans to operate as a museum.

Imagine the possibilities: Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) groups staying in the cabins, taking guided hikes through the longleaf pine habitat in the nearby Big Pine Tract and the Withlacoochee State Forest. And, maybe, hitting the Brooksville farmers market, seeing downtown and penciling it in for a future day trip.

I have a brilliant business development idea that I'll pass along, free, because that's just the kind of fellow I am: Advertise a bike camp on the hill for February, the month of gray slush up North. Take campers on long training rides on country roads and two of the state's longest dedicated bike trails. Give them fruit and oatmeal at the dining hall every morning, pasta at night, and if they want something fancier, point them in the direction of Papa Joe's or Mallie Kyla's.

With the Manor House on his roster, said Ron Daniel, president of the museum association, he could pitch an entire network of historic museums in Hernando.

None of this can happen yet, because the agreement hasn't been signed; the paperwork is still being shuttled back and forth between Tallahassee and Brooksville. There are reasons for this, most of them boiling down to the bureaucracy that takes time. And it will all be sorted out soon, said the wildlife commission's Anne Glick — hopefully by late February.

But every month it isn't done is another month the county can't advertise Chinsegut Hill on its website, can't bring in visitors, can't get them to spend money here. We need that desperately, in case you haven't noticed, because housing has tanked and we don't have a whole lot else.

Which is why the recent retirement of former tourism development coordinator Sue Rupe represents an opportunity to inject some vitality into her old office, an issue the County Commission will discuss Tuesday.

We need energy.

We need vision.

(With the Kerouac reference up above, don't interpret this too loosely.) We also need speed.

Chinsegut Hill could be nice lure to bring tourists to Hernando 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 7:46pm]
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