By Annette Long, President
Save Our Suwannee, Inc.
Have you ever been to Walmart or Winn Dixie in Chiefland and seen cars in the parking lot with tags from another state or from Canada? Check out the rear view mirror and you might see a “hang tag” for camping at Manatee Springs State Park with a date that says they are staying days or up to two weeks at the park. Have you ever driven down Highway 320 towards Manatee Springs State Park and seen the sign “Campground Full”?
Our rural springs get hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Some are local day-trippers, some come from far and wide for longer visits and some come from places all over the world, that’s what attendees discovered at the Annual Meeting of Save Our Suwannee, Inc. The meeting was held in High Springs on Feb. 24.
In an effort to quantify the contribution those springs make to the local rural economies, Save Our Suwannee commissioned this study to be done by economic experts at the University of Florida.
To pay for the study, Save Our Suwannee received matching grant assistance from the Alachua County Environmental Department with staff time from Staci Grecco and matching study funding from the Wildlife Trust and Wildlife Foundation of Florida. The money to fund the Wildlife Trust comes from the specialty license plate Protect Florida Springs.
The experts doing the work are Dr. Alan Hodges, Dr. Tatiana Borisova and Tom Stevens. They are with the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida.
Local business owners and local government representatives were interviewed about their business and importance of the springs for the region.
Some of the benefits were direct spending at restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, gas stations, grocery stores, dive shops and other businesses. Spending for travel and entrance fees were also taken into account. Some of the spending is responsible for local jobs and new revenue from outside of the community. Some of the benefits are a little harder to quantify.
The study is focused on the impact of springs based tourism on the local economy. The harder to quantify “environmental services” are also being studied. Environmental resources would be quality of life due to nearby recreation, environmental contribution of springs flow to the local rivers, ecosystem maintenance and habitat protection for endangered species and sport fishing.
These experts are evaluating the following springs: Manatee, Fanning, Ichetucknee, Lafayette Blue, Peacock, Ginnie, Blue (Gilchrist), Hornsby, Troy, Little River, Hart, Blue Grotto and Devil’s Den.
They will measure the total impact of spending with the local economy due to direct spending, supply chain activity and income respending in a nine-county area. They have also worked with a fellow researcher from the University of West Florida to get data for the spending on scuba diving and cave diving, which is much higher than that of other visitors.
Our local Manatee Springs is a hot spot for open water diver training and cave diving.
The goal is to gather this information and get it out to the public. Once the study is finished, Save Our Suwannee and the University of Florida Extension Office will be holding meetings with the numbers. It will be a few months before the preliminary data is verified and the final studies published.