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Springs activist's fight stirs magazine's interest

People magazine features Terri Wolfe and her decadelong battle with Zephyrhills Spring Water Co.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 10, 2003

Michael Cohen was hunting around last summer for a timely environmental story to write for People magazine.

He started with the Internet, running a Google search with words such as "water," "Florida" and "environment."

That led him to Terri Wolfe, an activist who has spent the past decade fighting the company that bottles and sells water from Crystal Springs.

In the Jan. 13 issue on newsstands now, Cohen tells the story of Wolfe's struggle against Zephyrhills Spring Water Co. and spring owner Robert Thomas. The company, owned by Perrier, sells water from the springs where Wolfe picnicked as a child. She wants the bottler out and the springs to again be an uncontaminated, public recreation spot.

Cohen, a senior correspondent who lives in Boca Raton, said he was drawn to the story because it addresses an issue few people ever think about.

"Bottled water's very sexy," he said Thursday. "I like that in Tampa in a fancy gym, a half-hour from Terri, there's people on their treadmills with their bottled water."

Wolfe, 48, has had her share of press coverage through the years. But she said the interest from People, a national magazine that claims 36-million readers, was a surprise.

"I kept telling them, "I'm not Bon Jovi, and I'm not the Rolling Stones; you really don't want me,' " she said.

But Cohen was persistent. He first called Wolfe in August, and it took several tries before she agreed to an interview.

The two finally met in November at the Days Inn near Zephyrhills. Cohen spent two days with Wolfe, her husband and her daughter.

He also talked to folks around Crystal Springs to learn more about the controversy. He heard a lot of the same complaints.

"Everybody in town was upset about the springs," which are no longer accessible to the public, he said. "The difference was that Terri has the inner strength to battle for what she perceives as a wrong."

Wolfe's battle has been fought through letter-writing campaigns, rallies and protests at government meetings. Her 400-member organization, Save Our Springs, has a Web site documenting every defeat and victory.

She disputes Thomas' ownership of the land, claiming that the original deed and plat to the spring and surrounding 10 acres proves that the land belongs to residents.

Thomas could not be reached for comment Thursday. But he says in the People story that the land undoubtedly belongs to him.

"I own the water, the land and everything because my family has always owned it," he told People.

Wolfe works closely with the elderly residents of Crystal Springs, people she calls "the original descendants that founded this town."

She said her next action would be to take the deed and plat to Tallahassee and get some official eyes to look at them.

"I work for the children's future and the old people's memories," Wolfe said. "That's about the only people I have compassion for."

Fiery rhetoric. Controversy. And Wolfe, an "ordinary person doing extraordinary things." All those elements are what caught the attention of People, said Ken Miller, a senior editor for the magazine in New York.

"There's a terrific fad for bottled water that keeps growing and growing," he said. "None of us ever think about the consequences of that, beyond what happens to the bottles. I had never heard that there was anybody who objected to it until we got wind of Terri Wolfe."

-- Molly Moorhead covers news about Zephyrhills. She can be reached at (352) 521-5757 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is

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