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Levy County was well represented at the 5th Annual Pure Water Wilderness Tourism Summit held Sept. 14 in Pine Grove Baptist Church.
Chambers of Commerce from Bronson, Cedar Key, Chiefland, Fanning Springs and Williston involved with the Tri-County Chamber Coalition, which worked with Pure Water Wilderness to help approximately 100 people to hear methods to rev the economic engine of tourism here.
Tourism is Florida’s biggest industry, according to Brenna Dacks of Visit Florida, the state’s privatized tourism group. Pure Water Wilderness is a three-county tourist development board.
Tagged with the theme of “Discover the Treasures of Pure Water Wilderness,” the daylong program provided a forum for seven spokespersons to speak about the natural treasures of the Tri-County Area. There were many tidbits shared on methods to promote business too.
Speakers endorsed enjoying the natural attractions in Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie counties.
Carol McQueen, executive director of Levy County Visitors Bureau, spoke about the many types of rare orchids that can be found in the 53,000-acre Goethe State Forest. She wants everyone to appreciate the natural treasures of this area, including a big cypress tree that is between 90- to 100-feet tall.
McQueen also spoke about wildlife in the state forest, and she mentioned Gulf Hammock Wildlife Management Area is within the bounds of this great natural resource.
While this park is above ground, the wonders of underwater resources were also shared.
Jill Heinerth spoke about cave diving. A film crew from the BBC came to film in Hart Springs recently as part of its Naked Planet documentary series. Heinerth reminded listeners that international tourists come to the area for extended visits.
Cave divers want to provide other family members with activities. She recommends that business owners network among themselves, between different types of recreation, so visitors can better find the many potential outlets for fun – such as hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, hunting, fishing, camping and horseback riding.
Riding on the rivers is yet another form of recreation covered at the summit.
One presenter told about his conversion from power-boating to kayaking. Mark Gluckman, author of a book about kayaking in North Florida, moved from Tampa to Gilchrist County in 1992. His paddling experiences gave him chances to slow down and enjoy wildlife more, he said.
Gluckman called Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie counties “a paddler’s paradise” that provides “a world-class paddling experience.”
Water and wildlife were among the threads running through several sessions of the day.
Park Ranger Pam Darty invited everyone to share in the free fun to be found in the Lower Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge and its sister refuge, the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. The refuges were established in 1929 to preserve the 200,000 birds that were using the area for nesting and rookeries. Now there are about one-tenth or 20,000 birds in the rookeries, she said, including pelicans and ibis.
There are 13 little islands off the coast of Cedar Key. She reminded business interests at the meeting to keep visitors in the area longer by telling them about the free public use available at this national park.
Patricia Zerbini of Williston told people about her 10-acre farm on a 75-acre parcel. Known as Two Tails Ranch, this attraction helps people learn about elephants. It is open to groups from schools, churches, civic organizations and families. Camels and other animals join the five elephants there now. Between 1,000 and 1,500 people visit the site each month, she said.
Helen Koehler told the group about nature-based equine tourism. She mentioned that there is a need for more partners who are land managers to provide places for horse camping. There are currently four rides annually in the Goethe Forest, which make Levy County a destination place for people from Canada and other countries, as well as from other states.
This community-service event was produced by Pure Water Wilderness with assistance from the Levy County Visitors Bureau, Gilchrist County Tourist Development Council and area Chambers of Commerce from Bronson, Cedar Key, Chiefland Area, Dixie County, Fanning Springs, Gilchrist County, Steinhatchee River, Suwannee River, Williston Area and Withlacoochee.
Sponsors for the summit were the Levy County Visitors Bureau, Gilchrist Tourist Development Council, Progress Energy, Central Florida Electric Cooperative, Levy County Fair Association, Capital City Bank, Natural North Florida and Dixie County Tobacco Free Partnership.