Save the springs, not the park 02-04-11

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A South Marion Citizen editorial

No one would argue that we need to take great care to save the quality of water in our natural springs in Marion County. Preservation of water should be one of the top considerations in thinking about any project in the area.

In that light, government should step in and make sure that we save the springs for all the future generations.

It is not, however, the government’s responsibility to preserve a tourist attraction.

That’s the problem with the Silver Springs discussion that is going on right now. Not enough people have separated the environmental concerns from the tourist matters.

There is a big difference.

If Silver Springs can’t make it as a tourist attraction under private ownership, what makes people think it can survive under county leadership?

The diehards will tell you what a perfect nature park it is. We’ve all heard the ads for the “world famous glass-bottom boats,” and the bragging that a television show, “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges, was filmed here many years ago.

Those things are pretty much in the past.

Let’s face it, there is only one thing that keeps people buying passes and keeps the park afloat, and that’s the music concerts. One only needs to compare the crowds when there is no concert to those who gather to hear famous performers, and realism sets in.

Frankly, it seems to us that it doesn’t matter who owns the park … things are unlikely to change.

There has been talk that by the county taking the part, it would be an economic development boon to the area and to the vendors.

But to have this economic boom, you need tourists coming to the park. Except for the concerts, we don’t see that happening.

So we see a solution of keeping the park operating under private enterprise, under the strict eye of county, to keep the water clean, but doing away with all the attractions save the concerts. That will bring in the tourists, help the local businesses on those weekends, and still preserve the park. The park could then be open to the public for a small fee, maybe even get state park recognition (although the state just announced it’s closing many parks) if private enterprise isn’t willing to try to make it work, during the non-concert days.

Wild Waters, adjacent to Silver Springs, should continue to operate as a separate entity. It is unique for this area, allowing residents to spend a cooling day in the water when the temperatures outside are warm, hot, or even stifling. It’s a great place to take the children. But again, it should be run by private business, not the government.

There are plenty of problems facing Marion County that the County Commission should delve into. Saving a tourist attraction isn’t one of them.