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Permits in place for Citrus County canoe trail

Good news for you paddlers: Citrus County should have its canoe trail soon.

County planners have the last permit they need. Now it's time for people to sink posts and erect 23 signs that will mark the wet way between Homosassa and Crystal River.

The county's sign shop in Lecanto, where street and speed limit signs are made, will construct the markers. Crews then will post them onto aluminum pipes and set them in the water at prearranged sites.

Gary Maidhof, a county planner, said his son wanted to pursue the job as an Eagle Scout project. The Ecotourism Committee approved that move. Still, professional crews might be needed to sink some of the signs in areas where limerock is present.

If all goes well, Maidhof said, the markers should be up by mid-May. The cost is $20 per sign; most of the money already is pledged in private donations.

Details still are coming, but look for the county to consider creating a reef off the west coast.

"I think it's a great idea," Plantation Inn Marina operator Sam Lyons said last week.

Lyons suggests that the county buy (or borrow or rent) fiberglass molds called Reef Balls. Concrete is poured into the molds, which contain a buoy surrounded by inflatable balls that make holes for the "reef."

Crews would drop the finished reefs in a prearranged area where scallopers once worked.

Jim Dicks, who owns and operates the Port Paradise Resort in Crystal River, said fish would flock to the reefs within six months. The same goes for snorkelers, who likely would enjoy the shallow-water sport.

The Tourist Development Council and Ecotourism Committee favored the idea. Lyons said he will investigate further _ his first stop being Hernando County, where similar artificial reefs already are in place _ and report to both groups in May.

This is shaping up to be a busy time in the tourism department.

Later this week, the Florida Humanities Council will host its "Florida Gathering" at Homosassa Springs, when 200 or so state residents will converge to recreate and learn.

In May, Citrus will play host to the Watchable Wildlife Conference, which the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission is organizing.

Hollywood stars, politicians and a host of American and foreign media crews often descend upon Homosassa State Wildlife Park to view manatees.

Last week, a Sports Illustrated reporter and photographer showed up to research a piece on the gentle giants.