WEEKI WACHEE — The takeover of Weeki Wachee Springs by the state last November helped lessen many of the struggles the attraction had long faced as a privately owned facility.
Within a few days, plans for a long-overdue spruce-up began taking shape, including repairs on outbuildings, restoration of the 18-seat underwater theater where the park's celebrated mermaids perform and a general cleanup of the first-magnitude spring that has drawn visitors to the attraction for 61 years.
On Tuesday, park officials and representatives from the state's Division of Recreation and Parks met with about 75 local residents to get their ideas on how to make the park even better. The suggestions may be included in plans the park representatives will announce this summer.
"We're the new kids on the block and we're looking for ideas," park manager Tommy Ervin told the gathering.
One man worried over the environmental impact of sand inching toward the spring from Buccaneer Bay. Other residents asked about plans to provide more public access to the Weeki Wachee River for canoeists and kayakers. Still others asked what park officials planned to do to attract more paying patrons to the famed attraction.
"People come here looking for fun things to do and be part of," said artist Julie Komenda, who was there to lobby park officials to consider establishing an artist-in-residence program where artists could conduct workshops.
Although immediate plans call for most of the park's current activities to stay the same, state park planner Lew Scruggs agreed that having a variety of activities heightens a park's interest to the public.
Scruggs likened Weeki Wachee to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, a former nature-based attraction that was purchased by the state in the 1980s.
"There is a lot of untapped potential here, just like there was there," he said. "It will come down to finding a balance that will make it entertaining as well as educational."
One popular suggestion came from Weeki Wachee resident Ruby Turner who suggested creating a museum to house memorabilia and other artifacts from the attraction's six decades of operation. "There is a lot of history here that people would find interesting," she said.
Scruggs said that any lofty goals are likely to tempered by the ongoing state budgetary constraints. He added that a new volunteer program will provide the community with an opportunity to give something to the park while providing a much needed work force to enhance the overall operation of the park.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.