Terry and I first met Andrew Gude, US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Manager, last January when we went to an open house at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. It was a chilly day and we were one of the first attendees that morning. Several booths were set up and the first one we stopped at was sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife. The guide that we talked to spoke passionately about the springs and the obstacles that had to be overcome before the park was open full time to the public. We didn’t realize that it was Andrew Gude, then the acting refuge manager until we attended the Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge annual meeting a few weeks later. And shortly after that it was announced that Mr. Gude was the Refuge Manager with responsibility from the Tampa Bay to the Suwanee River.
Last week Terry and I attended Mr. Gude’s presentation on Three Sisters Springs at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s Visitor Center. Mr. Gude and Ivan Vicente, also with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, presented and patiently answered numerous questions. They definitely have quite a challenge. Visitation to the spring has doubled from 2010 to 2014. The major issue is how many people can the spring accommodate plus protect the manatee and the habitat.
Progress is being made. The park will be open to public access from November 15th until March, 7 days a week, access will be provided by a concessionaire. Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) is currently working on wetland treatment and after that is completed a new road will be put in. In the Summer of 2015 US Fish and Wildlife Service and SWFMD will begin a bank stabilization that will start in May and end in November. Textile bags will be placed under the banks with limestone rocks lining the water side. The trees will eventually root into the textile bags.
Mr Gude meets with the regional directors in Atlanta on September 30th with a followup meeting with the city of Crystal River sometime in October. It will be interesting to hear how they plan to protect the springs.