April 14, 2018. The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.
In its April 12 editorial, the Chronicle opined that the Three Sisters Springs property currently is, and should continue to be, managed as a national wildlife refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not as a park by the City of Crystal River, in part because that’s what the founders of the property intended. In reality, the property has never been, and will never be managed as a traditional wildlife refuge. It is and always will be managed as a multi-use outdoor recreation area with the primary purpose of protecting the manatee, while affording the public opportunities to interact with them, while enjoying the area’s natural beauty.
Recent plans submitted by the USFWS and city propose similarly managing the property to accommodate public uses compatible with the primary purpose. Each calls for the development of fishing piers or docks, hiking and biking trails and a visitor center, as well as hosting festivals and other events. In reviewing both plans, I see little difference in the types of improvements proposed and public uses envisioned.
While joint management of the property remains desirable, someone has to have the final say to prevent continued inaction. Should that be the city, I find it hard to believe that its leaders would be so shortsighted as to jeopardize its primary cash cow by turning this site into something it shouldn’t be.
Assuming that both the USFWS and city can effectively manage Three Sisters relative to its primary purpose, the key determinant should come down to who can best secure the funding needed to improve and manage the property. The success of the city this year in getting a $400.000 State grant to fund needed improvements, coupled with the uncertainty of future federal appropriations to the USFWS, suggests that the City may be better positioned to do so, especially considering the tourism value of this property to the state, relative to the Federal Government, and this Administration’s meat ax approach to the budget.
The $1 million earmarked for Three Sisters in the USFWS budget should be used for that purpose, regardless of which entity assumes the lead management role. If need be, I’m sure that our elected state and federal representatives would join forces in drafting legislation to make that happen.