Description of the Homosassa Springs Homosassa Springs State Park offers a showcase of Florida wildlife and endangered species on 185 acres close to Florida’s west coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Citrus County. The park was purchased from Citrus County in 1989. This county is bordered on the west and south by the Gulf of Mexico and on the east by the Withlacoochee River. The main entrance to Homosassa Springs is located on U.S. Highway 19 in Homosassa and is 75 miles north of Tampa and St. Petersburg and 90 miles from Orlando.
This park contains a spring plus a floating underwater observatory in 45-foot deep spring where one can view fresh and saltwater fish and endangered Florida manatees. A huge spring, of which millions of gallons of fresh clear water flows every hour, is the centerpiece of Homosassa Springs, which is the headwater of the Homosassa River. This river flows 9 miles west into the Gulf of Mexico providing a mixture of both fresh and saltwater fisheries. These fish are attracted to the “first-magnitude” spring with its constant year around water temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. There are daily educational programs that focus upon the manatee, alligators and Florida snakes. Viewing the endangered manatee is difficult in the wild, but it is an every day occurrence at Homosassa Springs. In fact, the park is the only natural area in the world where many manatees may be observed 365 days a year. Wildlife displays include a Florida black bear, bobcat, alligators, foxes, deer, otter, and numerous native and migratory birds. Boat transportation is provided from the Visitor Center on U.S. 19 to the Wildlife Park. Also, nature trails throughout the park encourage nature study and give visitors a chance to experience wetland and hydric hammock environments. Most of the birds and animals living in Homosassa Springs could not survive in the wild, but can only survive in the natural habitat and diet supplied by the personnel at the park. Also, visitors may picnic at the park and walk nature trails. Finally, the park has many other amenities such as the Wildlife Café, a snack bar located at the west entrance to the wildlife park and the Riverside Buffet House, featuring home cooking, Florida style, and is open daily for lunch and dinner at the park’s Visitor Center off U.S. 19.
Once the park came under state control in 1989, substantial efforts were made and continue to be made to improve this natural asset. More specifically, there has been an emphasis to provide resource-related recreation while preserving, interpreting and restoring natural and cultural resources. According to Linley (2003), “the primary shifts were to move the exotic and farm animals out and bring wildlife from Florida in and shift the public programs from entertainment to environmental education/interpretation”.
Natural Resource Protection
Research on the environmental issues facing the park at Homosassa Springs revealed that this park might be somewhat less adversely impacted by water quality than, for example, Wakulla Springs. The Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park along with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection do monitor environmental conditions at these springs. The public and government have developed a Master Site Plan to guide the direction of the park. The prime objective is to conserve and enhance the wildlife and other park resources. Contained in this is to provide living space for the wildlife that is as natural as possible while allowing observations for visitors. The water quality will continue to be monitored as it is in other natural springs. The usual cause of diminished water quality is uncontrolled residential and commercial development in the surrounding area. One crude indicator of this possibility is the population density in Citrus County. In 2000, this county had 206 persons per square mile compared to 303 for the entire State of Florida. In terms of density, Citrus County is ranked 27th in population density among the 67 counties in the State of Florida. In addition, tourists are an emerging sector in Citrus County and are partially attracted by the appeal of Homosassa Springs State Park. The manatee does not have such problems in Homosassa Springs when compared to Blue Spring (i.e., see Chapter 5) where the drawing down of water levels could have mortality rendered to the population due to overcrowding. What is happening in other springs does not seem to be an immediate environmental problem in Homosassa Springs, but could be a problem if not factored into and acted upon in following the local comprehensive plan and Site Plan as Citrus and other surrounding counties expand.
Annual Trend and Seasonal Use of Homosassa Springs State Park
In fiscal year 1992, slightly over 200 thousand people visited Homosassa Springs State Park. By fiscal year 2002, visitors numbered nearly 266 thousand people, a 33% increase over the last 11 years. In Figure 4.1, annual park attendance data are plotted over this time period to calculate the annual trend in people attending the park combined with 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., HOMOATT) is given in the lower right hand part of Figure 4.1. All attendance data were obtained from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (unpublished, 2002).
The trend equation for Homosassa Springs State Park attendance shown in Figure 4.1 indicates an annual growth in people attending this park by 8.2 thousand per year.
From the appearance of this graph, it would appear that growth in park attendance was linear, or on average, a constant number of additional attendees per year rather than exponential where annual growth is sustained by a constant percent per year. Of course, the reader should note that there is considerable fluctuation of attendance from year to year around the annual trend. Using the RSQ following the trend equation in Figure 4.1, indications suggest that the annual linear trend line explains about 90% the attendance at of Homosassa Springs State Park over the 1992-2002 period while the balance (i.e., 10%) is attributed to annual cycles. The RSQ is a widely used statistical measure that explains 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 explained by national economic conditions, weather and possibly changes in environmental conditions at the springs themselves. Upon review of the trend equation, Linley (2002) felt that part of the upward trend may be due to improvement in the park itself ranging from repairs and new facilities such as new sidewalks, facelifts to various buildings, upgrading the gift shop, paving roads and renovation of the Visitor Center. Further, Linley (2002) feels that the change in policy to that based upon resource-based recreation and away from exotic animals and plants including those used on farms may also be responsible. In addition, tourism declined after September 11, 2002 and the slow economy is still continuing to have an impact on park attendance, thereby explaining the drop in attendance between 2001 and 2002. Also, Homosassa Springs had a special October 2000 event that may have pushed up attendance only for this period. One would expect that increases in the national and Florida populations plus rises in per capita disposable income yield more money to recreation would be the primary factors explaining the decidedly upward trend. In our economic analysis in this report, it is necessary to know the historical growth in attendance since such trends are likely to continue into the future and thereby adding more park-related spending in the study area. We cannot say how much each factor may contribute to the annual growth in attendance without further study of the entire springs park system in Florida and is well beyond the scope of this study. In addition to this annual analysis, we can also look at the seasonality of park attendance.
Seasonal use of a park refers to the month-to-month variation, if any, in attendance. Seasonal variation may be due to the nature of the resource and/or man-made events that influence the demand for goods and services such as a water resource (e.g., most people do not want to go diving during winter months). We obtained monthly attendance data on Homosassa Springs State Park from the Division of Recreation and Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Regulations. This was analyzed from 1992-2002 for these springs. If there is no seasonality, then annual attendance placed on a monthly basis would be 1/12 of the annual figure. This was discussed with examples in the previous two chapters and will not be reviewed in great detail in this chapter. Consider Figure 4.2. If a month is 1/12 of the annual attendance, then we assign it a value of 100 (i.e., no seasonality). For Homosassa Springs, seasonality of attendance is at its peak from February through April. This coincides with the typical tourist season for Florida. Citrus County is considered in the Tampa Bay area where the typical visitors from northern states visit Florida. Linley (2002) states, “ our (Homosassa Springs) seasonal trends are typical for tourism in this part of Florida”. From May-December of each year, Homosassa Springs exhibits a trough in attendance as visitors exit Florida. Such seasonality is important for park management. For example, major renovations might take place in September, which is at seasonal ebb. Part time employment would be hired for the February-April peak seasonal period. Compared to Ichetucknee and Wakulla Springs, the seasonal pattern in Homosassa Springs is less pronounced. Generally speaking, extreme seasonality is associated with economic inefficiency since resources including labor, building and other attributes of a spring go idle for a good part of the year.
The thrust of this report is to identify the direct economic impact visitors to the springs have upon a particular area. So, it is important to look at the economic setting in which the springs exists. As discussed above, Homosassa Springs is located in Citrus County, Florida. This is outlined in Tables 4.1 and 4.2.
Table 4.1 shows the growth in some strategic economic variables over the 1990 to 2000 in Citrus County. In terms of resident population, Citrus County expanded from a little under 95 thousand in 1990 to nearly 119 thousand, a 25.4% increase. This is slightly faster than the growth in population at the state level. The population growth in Citrus County is entirely due to in-migration from outside the county, which is very characteristic of Florida counties. The county is faced with managing such growth in terms of the pressure placed upon natural resources such as the fisheries, wetlands and other resources. The median age in Citrus County is nearly 53 years compared to only 39 years in the entire State of Florida, meaning that the in-migration is largely due to retirees to this coastal Gulf of Mexico county. In fact, Homosassa Springs in itself is an attraction to retirees and visitors from outside the county. The sustainability of the environment as argued in Chapter 1 is necessary in order to attract balanced and healthy economic growth as indicated by experience throughout many Florida counties.
Aggregate personal income in Citrus County grew by nearly 74% over the 1990-2000 period based upon the increase in population (i.e. bringing more people to the county receiving income from various sources) and rises in per capita income as the standard of living grew due to a rapid growth in technological change both in the U.S. and in Florida.
*Ranked in descending numerical order except for ascending where lower numbers are more "favorable".
SOURCE: REGIONAL ECONOMIC INFORMATION SYSTEM, U.S. BUREAU OF
ECONOMIC ANALYSIS ( CD ROM, 2002)
Socioeconomic Characteristics of Citrus County, Florida
Containing Homosassa Springs State Park, 2000
Rank Among 67
Recorded Unemployment Rate
Counties in Florida*
Labor Force Participation Rate*
Poverty Rate(% of Population)**
Components of Per Capita Income ($)
*Ranked in descending numerical order except for ascending where lower number is more "favorable"
**Percent of population in the county between the ages of 15-64 who are employed.
SOURCE: FLORIDA STATISTICAL ABSTRACT 2001, BEBR, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA (2001)
This leads us to an investigation of the rise in per capita income in Citrus County, which is one of the best indicators of the economic health of an area (i.e., the unemployment rate might be another). In Table 4.1, we see that the per capita income in Citrus County is below the State of Florida average both in 1990 and 2000. Per capita income in Citrus County grew by almost 39% over this period, but did not catch up to that of Florida as a whole. This is most probably due to the industrial structure of the county, which appears to be based upon retirement and tourism, which generally produce an industrial base of part-time and low-skilled jobs. Employment growth matched the State of Florida rate of growth over the 1990-2000 period. However, the rise in earnings per job greatly trailed the state level as indicated at the bottom of Table 4.1. It would appear that Citrus County has remained on a course of economic expansion that was characteristic of Florida during the 1970’s and l980’s where in-migration and tourism were more pronounced. Since then, Florida has become more diversified into high-tech jobs paying a larger average annual wage.
Table 4.2 shows a different perspective on what has been said above under this section on the economic profile of the area. Citrus County has a measured unemployment rate that is comparable to the State of Florida. It would appear there is no problem in employing idle resources (e.g., labor). However, the reader should look at the “participation rate” which is the ratio of employable people (15-64 years of age) to total population. For Citrus County, this rate is only 58.8% compared to 78.5% for the State of Florida. This could be interpreted in two ways. In Chapter 1, we talked about Suwannee County also having a low participation rate and interpreted that as a lack of jobs for all that want to work. In many counties around the Suwannee River, Bell and Bonn (2002) have pointed out a second kind of unemployment called “disguised unemployment”. The massive in-migration coupled with the age structure would indicate that Citrus County’s economy is heavily dependent on retirement income where people choose not to work. They have come to Florida or from elsewhere in Florida to retire, thereby explaining the low participation rate. We see no lack of jobs in this county as was true in Suwannee County.
Finally, Table 4.2 breaks down per capita income into its parts. Earnings per capita are decidedly below the state average indicating not only that the industrial structure is one based on low-income jobs, but that many of those Citrus County residents choose not to work, and remain retired. The retirement hypothesis is further reinforced by the fact that residents of Citrus County receive more “capital income” than the state average. This represents stocks, bonds and other assets yielding a flow of income primarily for retirement. Finally, transfer payments contain many things, but largely consists of retirement income from private companies and social security payments from the Federal government. The reader should note that transfer payments per capita are 50% higher than those received by the average resident in Florida while capital income per capita is about 4% above the state average. These income statistics are very consistent with our hypothesis that a pillar of the Citrus County economic based is directly dependent on the retirement sector. The fact that capital income per capita is only 4% above the State of Florida average would indicate that the average retiree to Citrus County is not overly affluent, but is typical of the economic status of most Florida retirees. Some counties such as Collier (i.e., Naples) and Palm Beach have capital income per capita 50 to over 100 percent above the state average and are a rough guide to the economic status of retirees. This completes the economic profile of Citrus County and now we shall move on to see how the income, employment and wages generated by Homosassa Springs fit into this profile.