Make us your home page
Instagram

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 [email protected]

fast facts

Become a member

Application for membership with the Friends is available at www.weekiwachee.com. 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

Loading...
  1. Sunday Supper returns with 25 chefs, food fests galore

    Food & Dining

    Save the date: SUNDAY SUPPER

    This just might be the dinner of the year. The Bern's family of restaurants has organized a James Beard Foundation fundraiser to fund the Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship for culinary students in the state of Florida for a number of years. But this week they announced the …

    Bern’s Steak House located at 1208 S Howard Ave, Tampa on Wednesday 2/19014
  2. Locale Market changes yet again, rebranding the restaurant as FarmTable Cucina

    Food & Dining

    When Locale Market opened in Sundial St. Pete in Dec. 2014, it was the most-hyped, most-anticipated gourmet market/food hall/culinary playground Tampa Bay had ever seen. Since then, celebrity chef-owner Michael Mina has done what every entrepreneur does in the face of challenges: tinker.

    Chef Michael Mina and chef Jeffrey Hileman work in the kitchen at Farmtable Kitchen in 2016. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  3. U.S. home construction tumbles 4.7 percent in September

    Working Life

    WASHINGTON — Construction of new homes fell 4.7 percent in September, the biggest decline in six months, reflecting weakness in both single-family activity and apartment building.

    Construction of new homes fell 4.7 percent in September, the biggest decline in six months, reflecting weakness in both single-family activity and apartment building.  [Associated Press file photo]

  4. Agreement means Spectrum won't lose Viacom programming

    Business

    Less than a week after disputes between two cable industry conglomerates became public, the two companies have reached an agreement.

    Viacom and Charter Communications released a joint statement that the companies reached an agreement in principle. Charter also markets itself as Spectrum. [AP file photo]
  5. Wing of Channelside Bay Plaza being demolished to make way for Water Street Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — The original developers of Channelside Bay Plaza at first wanted the name of the complex to include the word "Garrison." That would have fit, because the center turned out to be fort-like, inwardly focused and unwelcoming.

    A pedestrian bridge in the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza was demolished in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. [Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times]