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Yes, it's a chicken fishing the gulf

A year after chamber of commerce officials throughout the region banded together to form the Nature Coast Tourism Coalition, they're ready to launch their first major promotion.

And it's definitely unique.

For four days, Nov. 18-22, Hernando and Citrus county businesses will entertain the winner of a radio contest being held in Memphis, Tenn. Accompanying the winner and his or her guest will be the radio station's mascot.

Which just happens to be a guy in a chicken suit who is called the Memphis Chicken.

"We're told it's one of the DJs," said Hal Robinson, executive director of the Greater West Hernando Chamber of Commerce and one of the founders of the Nature Coast coalition.

The name of the coalition's promotion _ "Take the Chicken Fishin' on Florida's Nature Coast" _ tells it all.

The winner of the contest, being sponsored by radio station WGKX-FM, will be treated to four days of expense-paid fishing trips, hotel accommodations, meals and airfare. The entourage will stay two nights in Hernando Beach, and two nights in Homosassa Springs.

Along with fishing, the friends and fowl will visit the Weeki Wachee Spring attraction the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park and go on an airboat ride, among other things.

Exactly how the Memphis Chicken will unhook fish he catches, or keep all his feathers on the airboat ride, is uncertain. So is the problem of finding someone who wants to spend his or her vacation traveling with a guy in a chicken suit.

"We're leaving that up to the station," Robinson said.

The Nature Coast coalition, which includes chambers of commerce from Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and three other counties, has been considering some sort of out-of-state promotion for months.

This one came with the help of the Florida Division of Tourism, which served as the go-between for the coalition and the Memphis radio station.

"They already had the Memphis station lined up," Robinson said. "They wanted to send their mascot fishing in Florida."

Tourism division found out about the Nature Coast coalition at meetings Robinson and Hernando County Economic Development Director Al Fluman attended separately.

"It was just the way networking works," Robinson said.

The promotional package is the first of several planned by the coalition.

Already, another package is being planned around February's manatee festival in Crystal River. Other Nature Coast spots, ranging from Hudson Beach in Pasco County to Cedar Key in Levy County, are planned as parts of future packages.

The Nature Coast coalition, formed solely to promote the region to tourists, will pay next to nothing for its first promotional package.

Instead, local businesses are donating everything from meals and hotel rooms to the rides and attraction tickets.

"I think it was important to them," Robinson said. "Already, a large part of the local economy depends on people coming down to Florida to fish. If they (local businesses) can get another 25-30 people to come down to fish here as a result of this, it's obviously very good for business."

Fran Baird, owner of the Hernando Beach Motel and Condominiums, agreed.

That's why she donated two rooms for two nights for the promotion. She usually charges between $35 and $75 per night for rooms.

"We in the industry have got to help promote things like this," Baird said. "And I think sometimes we have to spend a little money to make money."

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