Make us your home page

Weeki Wachee gets its own Friends volunteer group

WEEKI WACHEE — There are many people in the community who feel a kinship and protectiveness toward the natural jewel called the Weeki Wachee Springs.

Now they can formalize those feelings.

Efforts are under way to create a Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Citizens Support Organization, volunteers who will enhance programming, activities and educational opportunities for visitors as well as promote conservation at the springs.

"Every state park has a friends group," said John Athanason, the park's marketing manager. "Here's an opportunity now for people to support their community state park."

Gate receipts, he explained, go into a general fund for all 160 state parks. But money raised by a friends group stays within that particular park to be used for amenities that the state park system can't afford.

The new volunteers also will arrange activities to attract visitors and to improve conditions at the 63-year-old former tourist attraction, which is now a state park under the direction of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

One of those events will be on Saturday: a community yard sale in the parking lot from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Advance registration is today and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a $20 cash donation collected at the park's front gate.

The Friends recently elected a president, Emilio "Sonny" Vergara, who as a former executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District brings a wealth of knowledge of the attraction and water issues to the 14-member board of directors.

Also count him among those with personal connections to the park. At age 14, he worked as a basket boy for swimmers at the pool, his mother had a job in the gift shop and his sister became a mermaid.

"The springs needs tender loving care," Vergara said. "We want to spruce up the springs and return it to its natural context."

Plans are also being made for a Hernando County Showcase that will feature area restaurants, businesses and local attractions.

And, of course, there are also the park's most famous attractions: the beautiful mermaids. There are plenty of plans being hatched for these famous swimmers.

"We're thinking of an adult mermaid camp for adults who have always had an aspiration of becoming a mermaid," said Athanason. Weekend camps for youngsters have long been offered in summertime.

In a related matter, several of the mermaids soon will be heading to London on a goodwill mission, Athanason said.

"Sometimes it's not enough to let the public come to you," he said. "The UK is the second largest visitor to Florida. You want to get these people before they plan their vacation. We want them to know before they arrive to come to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.''

The mermaids' international debut May 15 and 16 is being financed wholly by Sealife Aquarium in London. "It's at no cost to us at all," Athanason said, "and we have a promotional value of maybe $1 million."

Park officials see over-the-road performances as a spark for the local economy. "That puts people in motels and people sitting in restaurants, and that means dollars. With people comes money," Athanason said.

Last year, the mermaids played their underwater ballet to a packed house at Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, N.C.

The park's mermaid attraction is returning for a performance there and at a Gatlinburg, Tenn., venue this year. Added to their schedule is an appearance in Denver.

Athanason said that park officials are looking at new and innovative ways to spread word to the masses about the ladies "who have been swimming their tails off" since 1947.

Beth Gray can be contacted at

fast facts

Become a member

Application for membership with the Friends is available at The cost is $15 for individuals, $25 for families, $50 for corporate and $500 for founding lifetime members. Membership includes free admission to the park one day a month, admission to annual member celebrations, special invitations to member-only events, discounts to special events and on gift shop items, and opportunities for volunteer participation. For information, call (352)592-5656 or (352) 797-9199.

Weeki Wachee gets its own Friends volunteer group 03/03/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 3:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  2. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  3. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags


    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]