On Surrounding Local Areas Dr. Mark A. Bonn

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Springs are one of the most valuable natural resources in the State of Florida. Each year, Florida’s system of natural springs attract thousands of visitors from all over the world to various sites for leisure activities such as swimming, camping, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, archeological studies and nature studies. Even though Florida springs have been providing us with tremendous natural, recreational and economic values and benefits, little has been done to identify the visitors’ characteristics, their behavior or quantify the economic importance springs have to their surrounding areas.

Among the more than 700 recognized springs in Florida (Scott et al., 2002), there are 33 first magnitude springs (>100 cubic feet per second – 64.6 million gallons of water per day), more than any other state or country (Rosenau et al., 1977). In this report, we will focus on the four largest spring groups in the State of Florida. In 2001 alone, these natural springs accounted for nearly one million visitors or over 50 percent of the total visitors to Florida’s twelve spring state parks1 (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/springs/index.htm). These pristine, natural springs parks are known for their unique ecosystem throughout the world. The springs not only provide a unique habitat for endangered species like the manatee but also provide Floridians and tourists a unique opportunity to view these animals in their natural surroundings not known to exist anywhere else. They are:

  1. Wakulla Springs in the Northeast Florida

  2. Ichetucknee Springs in the North Central of Florida

  3. Homosassa Springs in the Central West of Florida

  4. Volusia Blue Spring in the Central East of Florida

Scope of This Report

The scope of this report is to 1.) Assess the economic value natural springs contribute to their surrounding areas, and 2.) Document behavioral and demographic characteristics of visitors to Florida’s four largest natural springs. This will allow us to promote, advertise, and manage these unique natural resources to their fullest potential. Seasonality, economic impact, and marketing strategies will be explored in-depth to better Florida’s most valuable natural resources.

This study is divided into six chapters. Chapter One (this chapter) reviews the scope and purpose of the economic impact of the four selected springs. Chapter One also explains the methodology used for the entire study. Chapters Two through Five address direct regional economic impacts of Ichetucknee Springs, Homosassa Springs, Wakulla Springs and Blue Spring respectively. Chapter Six provides a summary of all four springs and offers generalization to other springs in Florida.

Study Methodology

During 2002-2003, professionally trained surveyors were assigned to collect information from visitors (non-county residents) at four Florida springs. Surveyors personally interviewed a minimum of 400 visitors at each spring during this time period. Visitors were asked to respond to 31 items related to their springs visit (See Appendix 1). Information was obtained related to such dimensions including but not limited to: visitor socio-demographics, travel patterns, party size, length of stay, trip purpose, satisfaction with the on-site experience, willingness to return, type of accommodation used, and expenditures specific to eight categories.

Information was then edited, coded and entered onto a statistical program (S.P.S.S.). Summary tables were then created for all survey items and visitor profiles were formulated for each spring. Results of the Ichetucknee Springs Visitor Study; Wakulla Springs Visitor Study; Homosassa Springs Visitor Study; and Blue Spring Visitor Study can be found in Appendices B, C, D, and E. Finally, a comparison of visitors from all four sites was developed (Appendix F).

Economic data was generated for each spring in order to determine characteristics of commercial overnight visitors, visitors staying with friends/relatives, visitors staying at campgrounds, visitors staying in condominiums, and day visitors (no overnights). This information was then used to provide the economic model with necessary averages to estimate the economic impact.

Direct Regional Economic Impact of

Ichetucknee Springs State Park on Surrounding Areas
Description of the Ichetucknee Springs
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is located in Columbia and Suwannee Counties in North Central Florida off Florida 238 north of Fort White. This park consists of 2,600 acres and a shoreline of 37,400 feet along the Ichetucknee River and Springs. This recreational area was acquired by the State of Florida in 1970 to protect and preserve one of the state’s outstanding wonders and still be accessible to the public. An astounding daily average of 233 million gallons of water flows, from the seven springs to form the Ichetucknee River. The 72-degree, crystal-clear river travels five miles at one mile per hour before emptying into the Santa Fe River.

Recreational users can immerse themselves in the ever-flowing, clear water; viewing the river bottom’s fish and plants that make the park a “natural wonder”. One can canoe or kayak in the autumn, winter or spring or swim at Ichetucknee Head Springs where the edges are shallow, or scuba dive at Blue Hole Springs to depths of 40 feet. The park offers many tubing options from 45 minutes to 3.5 hours. Tubes and snorkel gear may be rented from private vendors just outside each park’s entrance. Of significance, the Ichetucknee is restricted to one-day use only. Therefore, there is no camping within the park. Food and soft drinks may be obtained from the state-run concession stand.

Natural Resource Protection

The Ichetucknee Springs and River is probably the most pristine spring and river system remaining in Florida. It is the premier tubing river in the United States. It is important to look at the threats to the springs from increased human activities in and around the area when assessing the direct economic impact of the natural springs resources afforded to local communities surrounding the Ichetucknee Springs. The social value of the springs critically depends upon the clear, clean waters that flow from the seven named springs in the park.

In 1995, concerns about the future quality of the spring water led to the formation of the Ichetucknee Springs Water Quality Working Group. Government agencies, stakeholders and local citizens are included in the group to protect the resources in these springs. The main resource to be protected is the water flowing from the seven named springs. The Ichetucknee Basin includes Lake City and reaches as far north as the Osceola National Forest. The working group believes that the water of Alligator Lake, Cannon Creek Clayhole Creek, and Rose Creak flows through a cave system that connects with the Ichetucknee. Of critical importance, these creeks receive contaminated stormwater run-off from urban and agricultural areas in the basin. This is known as non-point source pollution since individual entities as sources of the pollution are difficult to identify. These pollutants can originate from a vast spectrum of sources including agricultural lands, mining operations and septic tanks. Storm water run-off is often contaminated with fertilizer, pesticides, coliform, gasoline, turbidity, and other pollution. The springs and river water sediments and fish tissue are regularly monitored to detect the level of pollution that threatens the quality of the natural springs resource. Recent monitoring of waters of the springs indicate that this resource is still in relatively good condition according to Protecting the Ichetucknee (2000); however, contaminants are already showing up, including nitrates in the spring water, pesticides in the fish in the river, hydrocarbons in sediments in sinkholes, and coliform bacteria in the creeks. Such pollution not only diminishes the quality of recreation, but is not attractive to visitors to the area. Without resource protection, the visitors will be deterred from the area, and consequently spend less money on local areas surrounding the Ichetucknee Springs State Park. The main thrust of this report is to quantify the level of Ichetucknee visitor spending in the springs and the local communities surrounding the springs. This will establish a baseline by which to measure the potential economic effects of pollution on visitor spending in and around Ichetucknee Springs.

Protection activities for the Ichetucknee Springs include (1) building storm water retention ponds; (2) establishing vegetative buffers along the streams; (3) protecting sinkholes from refuse dumping; (4) limiting the use of pesticides and fertilizers; (5) reducing septic tank impacts; (6) eliminating leaking gasoline tanks; (7) purchasing sensitive lands for water quality protection and (8) removing trash from the creeks. All of these measures will involve either direct government expenditures and/or higher cost to polluters (e.g., better septic tanks in residential developments). Such measures will allow us to balance the economic benefits associated with the protection of the entire water resource with the actual cost of pollution control and water quality management.

Annual Trends and Seasonal Use of Ichetucknee Springs State Park

In fiscal year 1992, a little over 134 thousand people visited Ichetucknee Springs State Park. By fiscal year 2002 this number reached nearly 189 thousand people, nearly a 41% increase over the last 11 years. In Figure 2.1, annual park attendance data is plotted over this time period to calculate the annual trend in people attending the park combined with the year-to-year fluctuations in park attendance. The straight line through the attendance data indicates the annual trend in park attendance where the trend equation (i.e., ICHAT) is given in the lower right of Figure 2.1. All attendance data were obtained from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (unpublished) (2002).

The trend equation for Ichetucknee Springs State Park attendance shown in Figure 2.1 indicates an annual growth in people attending this park by 5.54 thousand per year. From the graph, it appears that the park attendance growth was linear or, a constant number of attendees per year rather than exponential where growth is maintained at a constant percent yearly. The reader should also note the considerable fluctuation of attendance from year to year around the annual trend. Using the RSQ following the trend equation in Figure 2.1, it indicates that the annual linear trend discussed above explains about 74% of Ichetucknee Springs State Park over the 1992-2002 period while the balance (26%) is attributed to annual cycles. The RSQ is a statistical measure that identifies how much the linear trend “explains” attendance at the springs over the period of analysis. Subtracting RSQ from unity, or one, yields annual cycles or what is not explained by the annual trend. Such cycles may be due to visitation trends in tourism to Florida, which are determined by such forces as the national economic condition, the weather and possibly changes in environmental conditions at the springs themselves. It is beyond the scope of this report to investigate the reasons for these observed cycles. However, it is important to recognize that there are considerable cyclical fluctuations in Ichetucknee Springs attendance from year-to-year which at their peak may strain the carrying capacity of the resource. In Figure 2.1, it appears that annual attendance peaked in the year 2000 at about 220 thousand or about 22% of full permitted utilization. Ichetucknee Springs are subject to considerable seasonality that might figure in the permitted number of attendees at the springs per day.

Seasonal use of a park refers to the month-to-month variation in attendance. Seasonal variation may be due to the nature of the resource and/or man-made events that influence demand for goods and services such as a pristine water resource. We obtained monthly data on Ichetucknee Springs attendance from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This was analyzed from 1992-2002 for these springs. The analysis was done by asking the question first of what attendance would be per month assuming there was no seasonal influence. This can easily be computed by dividing annual attendance by the 12 months in the year. In the case of no seasonality, the monthly attendance for any year would be constant. For example, annual attendance for Ichetucknee Springs was 189 million persons for the 2002 fiscal year as discussed above. If we assume even demand over the year, then monthly attendance would be 189 thousand divided by 12 or nearly 16 thousand visitors per month. Assume that we wish to find the degree of seasonality (if any) for a given month (e.g., July 2002). Attendance actually recorded in July 2002 was actually 54.6 thousand or about 3.4 times (54.6 divided by 16 thousand) the demand for July 2002. It is quite apparent from the rather extreme case that seasonality for July 2002 is immense. One other adjustment to the measure of seasonality is that we cannot base its measure on just one year (i.e. 2002). Any one year may have a number of irregular events as a recession, labor strike, extremely volatile weather such as hurricanes, or terrorist events similar to those during September 11, 2001. Thus, we used all eleven years (1992-2002) for each month to form our monthly demand without seasonal events. In using eleven years, we average out any irregular events to calculate the seasonal index. Returning to our example above, we obtained 3.4 for July meaning that demand for the Ichetucknee Springs in July for the year 2002 was 348% of demand without a seasonal influence. Using all eleven years, we obtain 356.1% as shown in Figure 2.2. This would mean that seasonality is fairly regular from year-to-year (i.e., 348% for 2002 is nearly the same as 356.1% averaged over 11 years). The measurement of seasonality is rather straight forward, but the reason(s) for seasonality and economic meaning of seasonality must be discussed to see how, and if, the recreational demand for the springs influence its use.

According to Figure 2.2, the peak seasonal index of demand for the resources at Ichetucknee Springs State Park is decidedly between May and August of each year reaching a peak of 350.1 in July. Without any seasonal influence, demand was estimated at 16 thousand people per month with an additional seasonal demand of 38.6 thousand people for a total demand of 54.6 thousand persons. On average this would mean that for the month of July, there would be 1,761 individuals per day in July. This could vary from day to day and especially on weekends.

The diverse assemblage of native aquatic plants forms the base of the river’s entire ecosystem. The plants are particularly vulnerable to physical damage. The many thousands of visitors each season have a significant impact on plants, creating barren sandy troughs that are void of aquatic live. When the State of Florida acquired the park, virtually the entire river bottom was bare. Today, aquatic plants have recovered.

Ichetucknee Springs has long been famed for tubing. This is the most important factor in attracting people to this area. According to Florida County Maps and Recreation Guides, natural spring water is always chilly. Because of this, tubing would be enjoyed more during the hot weather. Thus, we believe in the extreme seasonality peaking during the May-August period. Because seasonal visits decline precipitously during the September-April period, it would appear that the relatively cold weather in North Central Florida compared to Central and South Florida makes tubing and general water recreation very sensitive to temperatures.

Economic Profile of the Areas Surrounding Ichetucknee Springs

The thrust of this report is to identify the direct economic impact of the springs in a particular area. So, it is important to look at the economic setting in which the springs exist. Ichetucknee Springs is in two counties in North Central Florida consisting of Suwannee and Columbia Counties. Table 2.1 shows some relevant economic statistics pertaining to these two counties. Two approaches may be taken. First, the reader may wish to compare just one county with the economic impact of the springs, which will be discussed below. This may especially be true of Suwannee County, which contains so much of the Ichetucknee Springs area. This county is relatively small and would make the Springs look larger than if it were compared to Columbia County, and especially both counties together. Second, since the Springs exist in two counties, we may wish to compare the economic impact of the springs with both counties which we have added together in Table 2.1.

Both Suwannee and Columbia Counties are not densely settled compared to Florida. Columbia and Suwannee Counties have 71 and 50 persons per square mile respectively compared to 303 persons per square mile for Florida as a whole according to the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida (2001). This area includes a relative abundance of land compared to people that is reasonably conducive to park expansion. However, springs are not readily expandable as a natural resource and we can see that park authorities are already limiting the number of tubers per day.

In terms of temporal changes in economic variables in the Ichetucknee Springs area, let us first deal with resident population which has expanded from just under 70 thousand people in 1990 to nearly 92 thousand at the turn of the century representing a 31.6% increase, a much faster increase in growth than the State of Florida as a whole (23.2%) which is shown in Table 2.1. The open space coupled with relatively inexpensive land has not only attracted new resident to the states, but even people from Southern Florida, which has become increasingly congested. See Bonn and Bell (2002) for a discussion of these factors.

Table 2.1

Population, Income, Per Capita Income, Jobs and Earnings Per Job

In and Around the Ichetucknee Springs Area, 1990 & 2000

Rank Among 67 Counties




in 2000

Population Growth











Two Counties Total









Aggregate Income Growth ( Thous $)











Two Counties Total









Per Capita Income Growth ($)











Two Counties Total









Employment / Job Growth











Two Counties Total









Average Wages / Earnings Per Job ($)











Two Counties Total









Source: Regional Economic Information System, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, CD ROM, 2002

The two counties containing the Ichetucknee Springs had a more rapid economic expansion as measured by aggregate personal income shown in Table 2.1 than the State of Florida. This should be clarified by calling the reader’s attention to the fact that Columbia County containing Lake City at the intersection of I-10 and I-75 was primarily responsible for this faster economic expansion than that experienced by the State. In terms of growth, Suwannee County is not growing as fast as the State and a more rapid development of such attractions as Ichetucknee Springs may serve to expand visitor growth over the next decade. This can be seen by consulting Table 2.1. We have placed the ranking of the economic variable on the right side of Table 2.1, which indicates for the year 2000 how the county ranks when compared to the 67 other counties throughout Florida. For example, Suwannee County is ranked 45th in both population and aggregate personal income among all 67 counties in Florida with the number one county having the largest number for whatever variable is considered. Notice that the sum of the two counties which we have called “Ichetucknee Springs” in Table 2.1 cannot be ranked since the number of counties will vary by the springs were are analyzing.

More than growth or many other economic variables, the level of per capita income is the most important general measure of economic welfare. Income comes from a variety of sources of which some may not be that obvious. Of course, the largest and most obvious source of income comes from earning from work by individuals in the county of residence or adjoining counties. However, income also includes transfer payments such as income maintenance (e.g., food stamps, etc); unemployment insurance and retirement income. Finally, many individuals have been successful in accumulating capital, which pays dividends, interest and rents. Thus, relatively wealthy people as measured by the holding of income earning assets will tend to elevate per capita income for a particular income. Most of this capital producing income is counted on for retirement, which characterizes many communities in Florida. Table 2.1 shows that in the year 2000, the per capita income in both Columbia and Suwannee Counties was well below the State of Florida. For example, Columbia county’s per capita income for the year 2000 was $19,128 compared to $27,765 for the State or about 69% of the state level. These data indicate that the Ichetucknee Springs area is not relatively affluent when compared to the State of Florida. Bonn and Bell (2002) have examined this area and concluded that unless efforts are made to develop these and other counties along the Suwannee River it would not appear that this area will make much progress in achieving economic parity in per capita income with the State of Florida by the year 2015.

At the bottom of Table 2.1, we see one component of per capita income or average earnings per job both from full and part time employment. As we can see, earnings from the industrial structure of the area are almost 17% below that obtained by all Floridians combined for Columbia County and only nearly one-third for Suwannee County. Both counties specialize in low paying industries such as farming, forestry, paper and wood manufacturing and service industries. As previously documented, Columbia County lies at the intersection of I-10 and I-75 enticing visitors traveling to warmer destinations in Florida (e.g., Orlando) to stop and spend money on hotels/motels and restaurants. Columbia County has 2,040 hotel and motel rooms compared to just 309 rooms in Suwannee County. Below, we shall look at the importance of visitor spending associated with Ichetucknee Springs that supports many of the industries in the two-county region. Notice that the number of jobs in both Columbia and Suwannee Counties as shown near the bottom of Table 2.1 have grown more rapidly (33.6%) than those statewide (30.4%) over the 1990-2000 period. As pointed out by Bonn and Bell (2002), most of this employment growth has come from service industries such as those catering to visitors. Such visitors are primarily pleasure travelers, campers; sightseers and general ecotourists. Table 2.1 shows that in terms of earnings per job Columbia County is in the mid-range of counties (i.e., 32nd out of 67) while Suwannee County has a relatively low wage structure (i.e., 55th out of 67).

Table 2.2 shows some other important economic dimensions of the two counties that contain Ichetucknee Springs. First, the measured unemployment rate in the year 2000 in Columbia County is somewhat higher than that for the State of Florida while Suwannee County is exactly at the State average unemployment rate. Thus, we do not believe that measured unemployment in these counties is a significant factor in contributing to a lower level of economic welfare (i.e., per capita income only 68% of state average). In fact, the Ichetucknee economic area is growing at a faster rate as measured by income and employment than that of the State of Florida, which helps moderate the level of measured unemployment.

A lesser-known measure of economic conditions in an area is the “participation rate”. This is the ratio of those employed to the area’s resident population between the ages of 15 and 65. The reason for restricting the population to those between 15 and 65 years is to isolate those that could be “potential workers” if there were enough jobs. Of course, not all individuals in this population age bracket would work under normal conditions since some in this group must be available for caring for children and others are not able to work because of health considerations. However, many rural areas just do not have enough jobs to go around. Economics have labeled this insufficiency “disguised unemployment” since it is not directly measured. As the participation rate falls, it is more likely that disguised unemployment will be present. Such unemployment is not measured as those either on the unemployment roles or looking for work. This statistic is shown in Table 2.2. For example, the participation rate for Suwannee County in the year 2000 is 63.8%.

Table 2.2: Socioeconomic Characteristics of Counties in Florida

Containing the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, 2000

Rank Among 67

Recorded Unemployment Rate


Counties in Florida







Two Counties Average






Labor Force Participation Rate*








Two Counties Average






Poverty Rate (% of Population)








Two Counties Average







Income From ($)

Per Capita ($)


Cap Inc

Trans Pay











Two Counties Average










* Percent of population in the county between the ages of 15-64 who are employed.


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