During the past year, we’ve come to appreciate the recreational opportunities of natural Florida like never before. The Weeki Wachee River is one of those breath-taking jewels people love to visit. This river flows about 7 miles from the headspring to where it meets the Gulf of Mexico at Bayport in Hernando County. It’s a popular spot for kayaking and boating, but a recent study found certain recreational activities have had negative environmental impacts on the river. Randy Smith, the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Natural Systems and Restoration Bureau Chief, explains how your actions on the Weeki Wachee River can have a direct effect on its health and what you can do to help protect it.
Q: Why was a study conducted of the Weeki Wachee River?
A: The ecologically based study was conducted to evaluate the effects of recreational use on the natural systems of the river, as its growing popularity and increased visitor traffic have led to concerns about potential degradation of the river and its ecosystems.
Q: What did the study find?
A: The study found direct links between recreational use and environmental damage. For example, visitors who leave their kayaks, canoes and boats may trample vegetation and erode riverbanks and sand point bars. Also, those who climb or jump/swing from trees not only damage the trees, but the waves created from the jumps produces additional erosive forces on the banks.
Q: Should the number of visitors be limited?
A: Whether it’s one person or 100, these visitor impacts on the Weeki Wachee River can leave lasting environmental damage. The study showed that managing the types of activities on the river is just as important, if not more important, as setting a limit.
Q: What can visitors do to help protect the Weeki Wachee River?
A: We encourage people to follow these best management practices to help reduce their environmental impact on the river:
• Stay in the vessel when possible.
• If you have to leave the vessel, tie off in shallow waters.
• Avoid docking on riverbanks.
• Don’t trample vegetation or kick up silt.
• Avoid climbing on banks and walking on sand point bars.
• Don’t climb trees or use rope swings.
• Don’t throw out litter or leave anything behind.
Q: Do these tips apply to all river and springs systems?
A: While each system may have its own rules and regulations to follow, these are good tips to remember no matter where you visit.
Q: What else is being done to help protect the Weeki Wachee River?
A: Several local and state agencies have joined together to develop strategies to help protect the Weeki Wachee River. These strategies will likely be a combination of education, regulation, restoration and enforcement.
Q: Where can I get more information about protecting the Weeki Wachee River?
A: Visit WaterMatters.org.
Randy Smith served as the project manager for the Weeki Wachee Carrying Capacity Study. A Hernando County resident, Smith has worked for the District for 17 years and oversees a number of District water quality and natural systems initiatives and programs. Smith earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of South Florida and is a certified Project Management Professional.