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Guide to special places endorsed

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000


LECANTO -- The Tourist Development Council on Wednesday agreed to support -- in philosophy, if not yet financially -- a plan to create an eco-heritage "trail" with help from the National Park Service.

The plan calls for Citrus tourism and heritage leaders to identify the places that are of historical, ecological and cultural significance and then note them on a special map. Visitors could use this map to follow the trail and learn more about this area.

There would be a similar map that boaters could use to find significant water sites.

The plan also calls for a training program for eco-heritage guides. Citrus County already has one of those, though: The first class, with 22 students, completes its work next month.

Sam Lyons is chairman of the Eco-Tourism Committee, which is part of the Tourist Development Council. He asked council members for a show of support, and also for staff support -- or perhaps funding for an employee -- to help garner grants that would be used to find the $250,000 or so that the plan would wind up costing.

Council members liked the idea but stopped short of setting aside dollars for someone to write grants.

"This could be a volunteer job," council member Jim Dicks said. He suggested that Lyons check out SCORE, which is a group of retired business executives.

The council gave the Eco-Tourism Committee clearance to assemble a work group whose members would attend each committee meeting and help map out the proposed trail.

However, after some testy debate, the council declined Lyons' request to include promotion of the National Park Service plan in the job description of the council's public relations contractor.

In other tourism news:

TAX REVENUE IS UP: The 1999-2000 fiscal year is more than half over, and revenue projections for the tourist tax are looking good.

The tax is a 2 percent levy on short-term lodging, such as hotels and motels. It is viewed as a good barometer of visitor traffic.

The fiscal year started Oct. 1. Through April, the county had collected $179,517, which is 11 percent more than was collected this time last year.

The tourist council uses that money to help attract more tourists.

CITRUS ON TV: The long-awaited Citrus TV blitz started this week, with tourism commercials running on cable channels in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and the Fort Lauderdale area. The four-week campaign cost $10,000, including production costs.

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