Free river access is paddlers' right

Published May 9, 2007

Re: Misuse, overuse close party spot April 12 story

Paddlers beware! There's a robbery in progress on our very own Weeki Wachee River. Anyone who has been on this river knows what a treasure we have in our own back yards. Unfortunately, we have a monopoly that is capitalizing on our rights to be able to paddle this river at our leisure.

There is absolutely no available kayak/canoe access to our river the entire 7 miles, except from the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Park Canoe Livery in an area behind the park. This rental business is privately owned, but according to park manager Robyn Anderson, it has a "lease-of-use" deal with the mermaid park. People looking for a beautiful and exotic day trip must pay exorbitant prices for this experience.

However, it is paddlers like me, who invested in the expense of my own kayak and equipment, who are being gouged to paddle on our river. For us to put our own boats on the water at the headspring, we must go to the Weeki Wachee Livery and pay $7 per boat just to carry our boats through their building and down to the water. These people do not even offer to help us lug our boats down to the water's edge. Seven dollars for what? To simply park our car and put our kayak in our river?

To add insult to injury, if we choose or need to ride their shuttle service back to our car left at the park, they charge us $22 per boat for a shuttle they are running for their own rental boats anyhow.

We recently had four kayakers on our trip and sure could have used their shuttle instead of having to run two cars out to the Rodgers Park take-out spot. But $88 for a 4-mile shuttle is ridiculous and reeks of greed. The $7 per-boat fee (I'd even pay $10!) they are charging us to "put on the water" should be ample money to transport us back to our car and cover their costs, too.

And now, as a further outrage, our local government officials have closed "the Bluffs." We're now subject to a $500 fine and jail if caught stopping there. Where, oh where, are we paddlers supposed to be able to stop for a leisure rest or picnic during our peaceful day? "No Trespassing-Private Property" signs line the entire banks of this 7-mile river, and now they close the only spots where we can stop and enjoy?

How soon before they put "Private Property" signs on each of the sandbars we have left to stop and rest? Heaven help us!

According to the newspaper coverage about the mermaid park vs. Southwest Florida Water Management District dispute (debacle), it reads that Swiftmud governs this body of water and its shores. Is Swiftmud getting a cut from this canoe livery business? Do they even know what is being done to the users of our river?

It has only been within the past two years that it appears a lot of money was spent by one of our tax-supported government agencies to rebuild, shore up and terrace these two areas now being closed. How appropriate was that expense if it is already being closed to the public?

People, what is happening here? A lot of us are here to retire and enjoy what this beautiful area has to offer. However, our "Florida-famous" river is fast becoming polluted with more than ecological problems. We are being polluted by bureaucratic discord, confusion, greed and lack of consideration for the tax-paying locals.

Enjoying the wonders of Hernando County is becoming way too frustrating.

Mary Kay Bratt lives in Spring Hill. A meeting about the closing of the Bluffs is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Weeki Wachee Area Club on Shoal Line Boulevard. Guest columnists write their own views about subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.