With everything from a new regional tourism coalition to museums and nature trails on tap for 1992, the North Suncoast's relatively minuscule tourism industry is poised for expansion in the coming year. Here are some of the tourism-related projects business and government leaders have in the works:
THE NATURE COAST: Business leaders from Hernando, Citrus, North Pasco and other counties have agreed to work together to pitch the region to tourists. Using a comprehensive marketing plan, the Nature Coast Tourism Coalition hopes to convince tourists the area's sawgrass marshes and pristine rivers are just as great for vacationing as Walt Disney World or Clearwater Beach. The coalition wants to tap into tourist tax revenues to help pay for the marketing program in counties that have the optional tax, and hopes that voters in counties without the tax will approve it in November.
WITHLACOOCHEE STATE TRAIL: The Florida Parks Service hopes to begin work this summer on a 47-mile bicycle, hiking and horseback-riding trail that will stretch from the northeast corner of Pasco County north through Citrus County. Much of the trail will follow the Withlacoochee River; all of it will be on virtually undeveloped land. It will be some time before work on the trail _ a former railroad bed purchased by the state _ is completed. But when it is, visitors will be able to hike, bike and ride the trail, and camp and hunt along portions of it.
MUSEUM: "Brainstorms" is a $1.5-million-plus, hands-on science museum the city of New Port Richey and a private group want to open. So far, the museum's backers have found themselves with little more than a handful of problems, from finding money to pay for the project to finding asbestos in the building where they want to put it. This year, they hope to figure out how to solve the problems.
SUNCOAST SEABIRD SANCTUARY: Proponents began planning the 430-acre Hudson annex to Pinellas County's Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary a year ago. This year, they hope to start building it. If the original sanctuary, which opened 20 years ago in Indian Shores, provides any clues, the Hudson annex will be a big draw for not only injured birds, but tourists who want to find out more about Florida fowl.
THE NEW YORK YANKEES: Late last year, the Boys of Summer from the Bronx began looking at Pasco County for a new spring training site. Time will tell if the county eventually becomes the home away from home for the baseball team _ and a new destination for spring training fans.
PINE ISLAND/JENKINS CREEK: The county's only public beach, Pine Island, began getting a face lift last year. This year, the Jenkins Creek public fishing pier and park in Hernando Beach will get the same. The county plans to build new restrooms, parking lots and a playground, and provide areas for canoeing and swimming.
ROGERS PARK: For years, a well-known summertime swimming hole and beach area on the banks of the Weeki Wachee River, Rogers Park was closed to swimming because of pollution in 1989. Late last year, the county park was re-opened.
TOURIST DEVELOPMENT: Citrus County tapped into its tourist tax revenues last year and went courting out-of-state visitors with billboards, a roadside promotional booth and other advertisements. Activity in 1992 will show whether the increased marketing pays off for the hundreds of hoteliers, restaurateurs and others dependent on the county's tourism industry.
HOMOSASSA SPRINGS STATE WILDLIFE PARK: Renovations will continue this year at Citrus County's biggest tourist draw. Last year, workers started giving a polish to the park's so-called Fishbowl Observatory, which lets visitors look first-hand into the home of fish and manatees. Work on the Fishbowl will continue this year, as will work on new homes for the other animals that live at the park. For visitors, renovated restrooms _ complete with a new sewer system _ also are planned.
MANATEES: The animals that have become Citrus county's biggest tourist attraction got a little more protection last year from state and local lawmakers. This will be the first full year some of the rules are in effect. The new regulations set speed limits on Kings Bay and elsewhere, outline weed removal rules and designate four new manatee sanctuaries.