Wakulla Springs has special environmental factors that must be considered when protecting the spring and its diversity of natural resources. There is an established program to reduce the invasion of hydrilla, a non-native plant in Florida. This floating plant crowds out native vegetation and makes navigation with a boat more difficult due to clogging of boat propellers with mats of hydrilla. In addition, development in Wakulla County has increased the level of nitrate, phosphorous and other contaminants, which have decreased the water quality. Decreased water quality can seriously affect the river ecosystem, its drinking water and eventually the visitations at the park. It has been established by Leeworthy and Bowker (1997) that decreased environmental quality is a leading indicator of decline in economic activity. This is especially true where the local economy depends heavily on eco-tourism that is based on natural resources. They further state that the decline in the environmental quality or ecosystem has had a negative effect on the market economy. The market economy consists of sales, wages and employment that are directly dependent on the maintenance of a high degree of environmental quality. This is especially prevalent in Florida where one of the main attractions is the quality of saltwater beaches. Beach erosion and appearance will act to deter not only visitors, but also the visitor spending on hotels, restaurants and other expenditures. This is no different for natural springs that attract visitors due to their pristine nature now being threatened by external forces such as exotic weeds and land development. One way of documenting this effect is to survey visitors and ask them over a period of time how many visits they have made to the area. If an area has a situation of deteriorating springs, one might postulate that attendance would be dominated by “first time visitors”. After a few visits, tourists would decide to go elsewhere or pass up a particular spring once the environment starts to decline. This is why we look at the trend in attendance to the springs over time so we can identify such effects. The environmental and economic attributes of parks based upon springs should be subject to a periodic monitoring to ascertain how such declines, if present, impacts the market economy of jobs, wages and employment. We would encourage those with the responsibility of managing natural springs throughout the state to make periodic assessments of how attendance is impacted by changing environmental quality. This will enable planners to estimate how the market benefits at a point in time depend on the present environmental quality and how upward or downward trends in this quality are impacting attendance and consequently sales, jobs and wages in the local area.
Annual Trends and Seasonal Use of Wakulla Springs State Park
In fiscal year 1992, about 163 thousand people visited Wakulla Springs State Park. By fiscal year 2002, over 181 thousand persons visited the springs, representing an 11% increase over the last 11 years.
By Florida standards, the growth in attendance is slow at only 1% per year. In Figure 3.1, annual park attendance data are plotted over this time period to calculate the annual trend in people attending the park combined with an idea of the year-to-year fluctuations in park attendance. The straight line plotted through the attendance data indicates the annual trend in Wakulla Springs State Park attendance where the computed trend (WAKATT) is given in the lower right hand corner of Figure 3.1. All attendance data were obtained from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (unpublished)(2002).
The trend equation for Wakulla Springs State Park indicates an annual growth in people attending this park by 2.64 thousand per year. From the Figure 3.1, it would appear that the growth in park attendance was linear, on average, or a constant number of additional attendees per year rather than exponential where the growth is maintained at a constant percent per year with a rising number each year. Of great interest, the reader should note a great fluctuation in attendance from year-to-year where peaks occur about every two years over the 1992-2002 period. Compared to Ichetucknee Springs State Park reviewed in Chapter 2, Wakulla Springs State Park attracts only about half of the increase in attendance per year (i.e., 5.54 compared to 2.64 thousand visitors per year). In both absolute and percentage terms, it appears that Wakulla Springs State Park is growing slower than Ichetucknee Springs State Park as measured by attendance. Using the RSQ (i.e., the coefficient of determination that indicates the percent of time trend explained by the secular time trend) in Figure 3.1, it indicates that the annual linear trend explains about 39% of Wakulla Springs State Park over the 1992-2002 time period that is attributed to annual cycles or what is not explained by the annual trend. Thus, cyclical behavior in park attendance for Wakulla State Park nearly doubles what was observed in Ichetucknee State Park as discussed in Chapter 2. High cyclical behavior creates many economic problems for a park. For example, the planning of a labor force to manage the park may need to involve significant numbers of part-time employees. Over-utilization of facilities during annual peaks involves crowding for attendees. Greater fluctuations in revenue generated by the park makes it difficult to fund infrastructure expansion in an orderly manner. Therefore, this analysis of park attendance and the recurring cyclical pattern shown in Figure 3.1 may be very valuable to park managers and planners, especially if they know the source of the fluctuation such as the national or regional economy; shifts in demographic patterns or highway construction. The source of such apparent recurrent cycles is beyond the scope of this analysis and would be limited to just four park springs in Florida. Of particular note, the trend is important since it will tell us how fast the economic impact of this natural springs park might expand in the future and thereby have a job creating effect on the surrounding rural economy. This will be discussed below.
Seasonal use of a park refers to the month-to-month variations in attendance. Seasonal variation may be due to the nature of the resource (e.g., change in water temperature) and/or man-made events that influence demand for goods and services. Knowledge about park seasonality will help park planners in assembling resources at the proper intervals during the year to accommodate demand. We obtained monthly data on Wakulla Springs State Park attendance from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This was analyzed from 1992 to 2002 for this spring. The analysis was done, as in Chapter 2, 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 for any year by the 12 months of the year.
For example, annual attendance for Wakulla Springs State Park in 2002 was about 181 thousand people. If we assumed even (steady or constant) demand over the year, then monthly attendance would be 181 thousand divided by 12 or about 15 thousand persons per month. Assume that we wish to find the degree of seasonality for the month of January 2002. Attendance actually recorded in the month of January was a little over 5 thousand persons or about one third. If we look at Figure 3.2, we see that seasonality was 35.5 for 11 months of January over the 1992-2002 period or one third of 100 which indicates “no seasonality”. Seasonality was discussed in some detail in Chapter 2. In our example for Wakulla Springs State Park, January has the lowest seasonal indicator at 35.5 in Figure 3.2 indicating that this month fails to attract many visitors relative to other months during the year. From Figure 3.2, we can see an obvious pattern to seasonality at Wakulla Springs State Park. From April through August, there is a peak in seasonal attendance while the winter and fall tend to be the period in which the occupancy or use rate of this park falls considerably. We consulted Wakulla Springs State Park manager Sandy Cook (2003) to explore reasons for our seasonal findings. The period during the year where seasonality begins (i.e., number or index is greater than 100) is in late March and early April and peaks in July. According to Cook, school groups plan field trips to the park around this time. Between June and August, there is a strong positive seasonal effect (i.e., Seasonal Index above 100) due to children being out of school and families using the park to swim and picnic. In addition, the colder weather and lower water temperatures during fall and spring months deter people from using the park as they do during hot summer months. Of particular note, it is instructive to examine those influences that apparently are not at work to create seasonality of attendance. It would appear that Wakulla Springs is not exactly a haven for winter visitors (ie. snowbirds). If it were, we would expect periods of high seasonal demand would be in the January through May period of the year, which occurs in North Florida as traffic flows toward Orlando, Tampa and Miami for the peak of the year. It would appear that Wakulla Springs State Park and Ichetucknee Springs State Park both have quite similar seasonal patterns (i.e., compare Figure 2.2 with Figure 3.2). The distance between Columbia/Suwannee Counties and Wakulla County is less than 100 miles so we might expect that these two springs (i.e., Ichetucknee and Wakulla) are subject to the same seasonal influences such as weather, animal habitat, changing seasons of the year, etc. It would appear that the seasonality curves are somewhat different among the two springs. Wakulla Springs State Park’s seasonality curve seems much flatter than the one generated in Chapter 2 for Ichetucknee meaning that the seasonal attendance pattern is much less pronounced for the former than the latter. We think this can be explained since Wakulla Springs State Park is much more diverse in potential activities at the park due to it’s facilities and services (lodge, restaurant, glass bottom boats, etc., etc) while Ichetucknee Springs is known primarily for its tubing which is much more prevalent in warm as compared to cold weather. Thus, we see how facilities, services and products offered by Wakulla Springs State Park can have a large influence on the seasonal demand experienced by the area. Of great importance, we must now look at the economy of Wakulla County to see how Wakulla Springs impacts sales, jobs and wages in this community.