One of the premier citizen support organization’s in the state is in our own backyard—the Friends of Wakulla Springs State Park. Few other organizations supporting state parks or other public lands have raised as much money, or advocated so strongly for the resource, as the Friends group, and they have won several awards to prove it.
Begun in 1996, the Friends group has tirelessly fought to protect and clean the aquifer feeding the springs, it helped to defeat a proposed water bottling plant nearby, it has pushed back efforts to open a large RV campground near the springs, and it is currently opposing recreational scuba diving in the main spring. In many ways, the Friends group is the conscience and voice for the park since park personnel are often constrained from taking sides on issues. "What originally got me involved with the Friends, and what keeps me motivated, is advocating for our water quality and water quantity," long-time Friends board member Crystal Wakoa said. "That's what it's really all about - taking care of our liquid heart. Without that, we have nothing."
The Friends group is also good at raising money and putting it to good use to benefit the park. It raised almost $50,000 dollars last year from several large events, including the annual Wakulla Springs Wildlife Festival and a five kilometer run, and from donation containers placed around the park, particularly on the popular tour boats. Among their many projects, they have recently worked with the FSU Center for Advanced Power Systems on installing two electric motors in one of the jungle boats - the Alligator - along with solar panels on the boat's roof to charge the motors. The boat's batteries haven't had to be plugged in since the installation.
The Wood Duck jungle boat is slated to be retrofitted with electric motors this year. The electric motors make for a quieter ride and they are a visible example of alternative energy in use. The Friends group will also assist in the complete refurbishment of several of the boats since many of them are more than 50 years old.
Along with the water advocacy and projects that the Friends have initiated, Mother Nature seems to be lending a helpful hand to the park. Manatees are frequenting the park in ever increasing numbers. Last winter, 36 separate manatees were counted, and this winter 51 different manatees enjoyed the constant temperature of the park's spring water. "It's like they are going back [to Crystal River] and telling their friends," park manager Brian Fugate said. "In the past, we thought the water was too cold here, but they seem to be thriving. Besides providing an added visitor attraction, the herbivorous manatees are putting a dent in the mats of smothering hydrilla water plants. "Conditions are the best I've seen for this time of year," Fugate said, "and that's because of the manatees."
Several Friends members, including Wakoa, serve as volunteer boat drivers at the park, where they can educate the public about manatees and water issues one boatload at a time. The group's mission is simple, but one that will be ongoing "To conserve, protect, restore and enhance the natural, historical, cultural and recreational resources of Wakulla Springs State Park for present and future generations." To learn more, log onto http://wakullasprings.org/.