Tubers have their say
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Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Upper Ichetucknee tubing ban mostly favored in hearing
Tubers have their say
Cindy Swirko Gainesville Sun USA TODAY NETWORK
December 16, 2020
Most of the speakers who called into a Tuesday morning public hearing on a tubing ban on the upper Ichetucknee River favored the change, saying it’s needed to protect the northern part of the system.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park officials would like to implement the change this summer, when tubers flood the river.
Among the supporters was Jim Stevenson, who was chief naturalist and biologist for the Florida Park Service when it acquired the Ichetucknee Springs in 1970.
“We’ve been struggling dealing with carrying capacity for the past 50 years,” Stevenson said. “It’s good policy … and I’m glad to see that you are nearing the proper conclusion.”
The upper river will not be shut to people entirely. Up to 100 paddlecraft a day will be allowed to float the river from the north entrance on Elim Church Road under the policy.
Tubing will be expanded from 2,250 a day to 3,000 at the south entrance on U.S. 27 near Fort White. As a
About a dozen people called in to the hearing. A few opposed the move or had reservations about it.
A woman whose name spelling could not be verified contrasted a tube trip though the state park to a visit to the private Ginnie Springs Park — both of which she visited as an escape from COVID-19 inactivity.
“I felt the park management at Ichetucknee was wonderful — it was clean, it was beautiful. I went to Ginnie Springs — people had food on the river. It was just a mess,” she said. “My hope is that we don’t take away upper tubing. It can be managed effectively. I didn’t know that there was any issue with vegetation underneath. This has to do with giving us more information as park visitors.”
But most favored the move, agreeing with the park service that action is needed to protect the ecosystem.
“I have been appalled at my experiences of tubing during the summer when you get such huge crowds,” one woman said. “I’ve been sickened to the point of having to get out at midpoint because of the clusters of eelgrass being dislodged by people.”
No one who spoke identified as being associated with one of the tube vending businesses that could be financially impacted by the move.
However, a man indicated concern that they will suffer.
“Environmental studies have to be done to maintain the river,” he said. “What studies have been done on the adverse impact of the economic state of the local and surrounding areas that are surely detrimental?”
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson belongs to regional river protection groups and owns a business that rents canoes, kayaks and paddleboards on the Santa Fe River.
Malwitz-Jipson favors the changes but criticized the park for allowing its concessionaire, Cape Leisure, to rent tubes and paddling equipment inside the park — something the park initially said it would not allow.
“I have always been opposed to that … I feel that it did ghost the business opportunities in the town of Fort White,” Malwitz-Jipson said. “I’m very concerned about only allowing 100 vessels on a first-come, first-served basis when you have an outfitter in the park willing and able to rent X amount of boats they have at their disposal at the north entrance.”
Several more regulatory steps must be taken for the changes to be enacted. The park hopes to have them in place by the time tubing starts as the weather warms.