BROOKSVILLE — In 2014, Hernando County was in need of a new brand. Having realized that the county’s name lacked recognition among would-be tourists, county commissioners heard from a handful of marketing firms and decided to move forward with two of them. One was a local firm, owned by former Tourist Development Council chairman Tom Barnette, whose pitch centered on what he called the Florida Mermaid Trail.
The trail, he told the County Commission, would be a family-oriented quest highlighting activities across the county. The commission liked it enough to agree to pay up to $50,000 for the trademark and related websites.
More than five years later, that trademark finally will come in handy: A Florida Mermaid Trail is set to open in January. The journey, now a project of the Brooksville Main Street economic development program, has changed shape, but officials hope it still can help visitors appreciate what they may otherwise ignore.
This trail is a sort of scavenger hunt, sending participants on a 2.2-mile trip — a 1.1 mile version will also exist — around Brooksville. Visitors will follow a printed map or an app version, with clues leading them to 20 bronze mermaid statues mounted on buildings along the way. Main Street director Natalie Kahler said she hopes the trail will give visitors and residents a reason to slow down and observe the city.
“There are so many things that we can do carless,” she said. “There is so much we miss when we’re in our vehicles and speeding by things.”
Hills are unavoidable in downtown Brooksville, and walkers’ enjoyment may depend on their tolerance for them, Kahler said. But a recent trial walk of the Mermaid Trail with city and county officials showed that it’s safely walkable. The trek took that group about an hour and a half, she said.
The trail fits with a recent vision of Brooksville as a recreational destination, joining last year’s opening of the Good Neighbor Trail extension and hopes for the city as a hub of cycling.
Kahler hopes the trail will have cross-generational appeal. She likened it to geocaching, the GPS-assisted treasure-hunting activity, and “Pokemon Go,” the mobile game that became a viral hit among millennials in 2016. The trail is built to be Instagrammed. It’s a way “to put Brooksville in people’s minds as a fun place to do something,” she said.
People interested in the trail should watch for a January ribbon-cutting, Kahler said. But they shouldn’t expect to come away with one of the statues, which will range in size from 12 to 26 inches.
“They will be firmly mounted," she said, “so that no one can take them home with them as souvenirs.”