Three Sisters Property Mgt.

May 21, 2017…….The following guest column I submitted to the Citrus County Chronicle was published in today’s edition.

 

Are we about to lose the million dollars that has been set aside by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for visitor facilities and improvements on the property adjacent to Three Sisters Springs (Property)?
As reported in the May 10 Chronicle, the Crystal River City Council (City) voted to terminate its agreement with the Service and takeover management of the Property from the Service, if a new, mutually acceptable agreement between the parties is not reached in six months.  Should this happen, Service personnel warn that its set-aside funds will not be spent on the Property.
I’m not too concerned about who manages the property.  Both the City and Service are capable of doing so given adequate funding and staffing, the future of which is uncertain for both parties.
More importantly, I’d like to see the set-aside funds retained, and not re-programmed to other Service facilities.  As someone who has managed Service programs in the field and administered a sizeable appropriation at the Interior Department, I’m familiar with appropriations law and agency budgeting procedures.  I’d be surprised if the Service has not already begun lining up alternative landing spots for these funds.
Should the Service lose its lead management role, new statutory language or direction from the Congress would probably be required to ensure that the funding appropriated for use on the Property, is spent on the Property.
According to a report in the May 11 Chronicle, Adam Thomas, Director of the Citrus County Visitors and Convention Bureau, believes that management of the Property by City personnel will result in fewer tourists to our area.  As long as manatees continue enjoying their winter months at Three Sister Springs, and the Service maintains its presence there managing them (which it would regardless of who manages the Property), I don’t see how City management would have a deleterious effect on tourism, provided it has the resources to do so.  If anything, the City would be more inclined than the Service to promote visitor use.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Thomas, along with County Commissioner, Ron Kitchen, Jr., also believe that the City should not turn to the county if it requires funding assistance to manage or improve the Property.  Does anyone believe that funding would be forthcoming from the State?
Hopefully, the City and Service can negotiate a new set of mutually acceptable roles and responsibilities for the Property over the next few months.  Failure to do so could leave the City with a lead management role, with inadequate funds to improve the Property.
Submitted by Gary Rankel

May 9, 2017.   The following Letter to the Editor was published in our Citrus County Chronicle on May 6, 2017.

Thanks to the Chronicle and several local businesses (sorry, I can’t recall them all) for sponsoring the 2017 Nature Coast Challenge – the annual Kayak Fishing Tournament hosted by the Inglis-Yankeetown Lions Club on April 22.  Unlike most other fishing tournaments, where harvested fish are returned to dockside for measuring, and over-slot fish (those exceeding the legal size limit) can’t be entered, the Challenge is a catch-measure-photograph-release event where all fish are eligible to compete, and most fish caught are released to fight another day.
I’m not quite sure why the kayak tournament is referred to as a challenge.  Fishing from a plastic paddle-craft is a bit more demanding than from a motorized boat, but, still, lots of folks manage.  Perhaps it’s because it requires three hands to properly administer the measure-photograph process: one to hold the fish down and keep it from flopping off the measuring board, the second to pinch its tail to get an accurate measurement, and the third to snap the picture.  Accomplishing this task with two hands is definitely a challenge.
Approximately 70 anglers participated in the event, with prizes awarded for the biggest redfish, biggest seatrout, biggest redfish / seatrout combination (the Grand Slam), longest combined length of several species (the Mixed Bag) and best catch by a junior.  All net proceeds went to charity.
The weather cooperated and a great time was had by all.
Thanks to Donna Norton and the other Lions who put this on.
Here’s looking forward to next year’s tournament.

 

Gary Rankel

New Kayak Launch

March 11, 2017.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on March 9.

Kudos to those responsible for finally providing a suitable kayak launch site at Hunter Springs Park.  It’s a most welcome addition to this nicely rehabilitated park, and has the potential to become its crown jewel attraction.
In my short visit to the park Saturday afternoon, just four days after the launch opened, I observed more than 20 paddlers launching their plastic vessels.  Some folks had transported them to the park, while others rented from a good selection of single and tandem yaks furnished onsite by Hunter Springs Kayaks of Crystal River.  A few renters I talked to were new to the area, and, prior to launching, received a short indoctrination from rental company staff on safety measures, manatee manners, and points of interest in the Kings Bay area.
I wonder how much use the launch site will receive once locals become more familiar with it, and if marketed to visitors looking for more adventurous close encounters with manatees than offered from the board walk overlooking Three Sisters Springs.  I would guess that most “manatrolley” riders would enjoy a stop at the park.  Too bad it’s a bit too far removed from serving as the terminus for the Riverwalk.
Given all the activity at the launch site, while only four sunbathers occupied the adjacent and much more expansive swimming beach, maybe a larger portion of the common sandy area should be dedicated to paddlers, with, perhaps, a second put-in site, during the manatee season.  The beach could easily revert back to primary swimming / sunbathing use during the warmer months.
It would be helpful to place a pictorial display of the Kings Bay area near the kayak unloading zone to facilitate area orientation for visiting paddlers.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have similar paddling opportunities and launch sites available at Fort Island beach and the lakeside parks in Inverness to better distribute visitor use?
Gary Rankel

 

2017 Nature Coast Challenge

January 28, 2017.    The 6th annual Nature Coast Challenge Kayak Fishing Tournament in and around the Withlacoochee River, sponsored by the Inglis Yankeetown Lions Club, is scheduled for April 22, 2017, with the Captains Meeting scheduled the evening before.   Applications, rules and other information may be obtained by contacting:  donnanorton@tampabay.rr.com.

New Outdoor Recreation Area

My following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on December 24, 2016.

As someone with a background in outdoor recreation planning, I’ve long felt that a paddling / kayak fishing complex at the end of Ozello Trail and a boat ramp on the barge canal would be two of the best investments Citrus County could make.  A Looking Forward opinion in the December 21 Chronicle got me thinking about the east side of the county, the ideas expressed by Inverness city officials in pursuit of their “small town done right” theme, and why the idea of a multi-purpose outdoor recreation complex at Big Lake Henderson hasn’t surfaced.

Have you ventured out to Fort Island Beach to view the high use it receives, even on weekdays, or to Hunter Springs Park to see the use it gets from beachgoers, kayakers (at least until recently) and picnickers?  If you’re thinking of heading to the popular Pine Island Park just north of Bayport for a day on the beach or to launch your kayak, you better leave early if you want a parking spot.  Even the small public beach and picnic area on Lake Hernando gets lots of use.  Homosassa is now planning to create a park along the river.

Have you attended the annual bluegrass festivals along the Withlacoochee River, or experienced the crowded concerts at Kings Bay Park?  It’s easy to understand why the city of St. Petersburg is looking to develop a waterside park and entertainment venue where the former pier was located?

These areas have many of the following things in common: inviting water, a sandy beach, beautiful open space, gorgeous scenery, nice picnicking and kids play areas, adequate parking, sunbathing and kayaking opportunities, occasional entertainment, maybe a nice boardwalk overlooking the water.

Why couldn’t an outdoor recreation complex, incorporating these amenities, be created along Lake Henderson adjacent to downtown Inverness?  Parents could sunbathe while the kids swim in a protected area, play on some jungle jim equipment, or build sand castles as mom and dad look on?  Or, they could launch their yaks for a relaxing paddle or to cast a line for a nice bass.  No expensive ramp would be required to launch; a sandy beach should suffice, although accommodation for our wounded vets and other disabled folks would be nice.

Given its proximity to the popular Withlacoochee State Trail, an area set aside for bikers to park their bipeds should encourage restful stopovers from their busy days attempting to stay fit.  Perhaps a vendor located onsite could have cold drinks and snacks on hand and maybe rent kayaks, paddleboards or those paddle boats that kids seem to love.  Pontoon boat rides on the weekends?   A beach volleyball or badminton court?  Horseshoes?  Shuffleboard?

How about creating a performance pavilion and scheduling concerts for the whole family to enjoy in a beautiful open setting, as opposed to standing shoulder to shoulder around the courthouse.  Perhaps some of the popular groups that regularly perform at Terra Vista, Top of the World, The Villages and other nearby entertainment venues could be enticed into adding the Lake Henderson Outdoor Recreation Area to their tours with all-expense paid tours of Kings Bay arranged to see and swim with our manatees offered as incentives.

That’s right: a cooperative venture between Inverness and Crystal River.  How’s that for a vision?