SPRING HILL — The Hernando County Sheriff's Office has waded into efforts to save the landmark, but malfunctioning, waterfall at Spring Hill's original entrance.
More precisely, a handful of female county jail inmates under the sheriff's direction are pitching in to help maintain the small man-made waterfall at Spring Hill Drive and U.S. 19.
Last fall, when Hernando County officials, citing budget restraints, decided the county no longer could maintain the cantankerous water pump and pool at the site, those responsibilities reverted to the Spring Hill Garden Club.
The club has cared for the small park, including planting seasonal flowers, ever since the site was established by developer Deltona Corp. But the club has modest financial resources and its members are hard-pressed to perform the physical labors involved with maintaining the infrastructure.
The club recently issued a communitywide call for help, and many individuals and businesses have answered.
Among those club president Doug Brainard has approached for help is newly appointed Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis.
Brainard asked about possible help from inmates working off community service hours, and the sheriff offered a group of female prisoners incarcerated on misdemeanor and nonviolent offenses.
The prisoners, who volunteered for the work, were screened by the sheriff's classification unit for their appropriateness for an out-of-jail detail.
For the last two Saturday mornings, and for the foreseeable future, three or four female inmates, overseen by a detention center deputy, have donned gardening gloves and wielded trowels. They have cleared flower beds of leaves and other debris and pulled weeds. Soon, they will install fresh flowering plants and herbs.
Stacey Smith, 28, a Brooksville native, said she had no gardening experience other than "just watching my grandpa." She liked toiling in the sunny and breezy morning among pink and fuchsia blooming azaleas, she said, adding, "Being outside is enjoyable."
Kristin Calcasola, 23, of Spring Hill agreed. "Just the outside part is nice," she said. She said she felt good about contributing to the community, but said she wished, "It were under different circumstances."
Smith nodded in agreement.
For sheriff's Sgt. Tracey Valentine, being outside in nice weather was a perk, even if the Saturday assignment "is just part of the job."
Brainard was pleased with the inmates' work. "They've done a great job," he said.
The club's first fundraiser Sunday, a buffet dinner, raffle and silent auction at R Beach restaurant in Hernando Beach, raised more than $1,700 for waterfall restoration and maintenance, reported project chairwoman Deb Swanson.
Also, pool maintenance workers, water pump suppliers and commercial landscapers have come forward to donate equipment and services, Swanson said. The garden club is planning to redo ground covers and floral plants around the waterfall.
"Spring Hill has really come alive to support the waterfall," Brainard said.
It doesn't end there. The club also plants and maintains four median islands on Spring Hill Drive, just east of the waterfall.
Commented Swanson, bending up from her weeding, "Everything's in the works. It's a work in progress."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.