Weeki Wachee River kayaking cap to be enforced by state

After years of pleading from environmental activists, the state is cracking down on kayakers in the Weeki Wachee River.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced it will actively enforce a cap on the number of kayaks permitted to launch from Weeki Wachee State Park.

"We've asked the state to simply follow their unit-management plan and state law," said Shannon Turbeville, who used to own a home on the river. "I watched it for a few years and had been coming up here for a while many years before that and it is a beautiful resource that is obvious it is in a state of degradation and it needs to be protected." 

Turbeville said he began researching three years ago whether there needs to be a cap on the number of kayakers in the river. Through a public records request sent to the DEP, Turbeville learned there already is a cap: 280 kayakers are allowed to launch from the park each day.

State documents, however, show as many as 900 kayakers have been entering the river on some days. 

Turbeville asked Florida Sen. Wilton Simpson to help hold accountable the DEP, which runs the park.
Simpson's office told FOX 13 workers at the park were keeping the numbers artificially lower by counting tandem kayaks as one person and using a year-end total to come up with a daily average.

Much of the community around the river, including some smaller kayak shops, consider the changes a victory.

"Sometimes there are so many people that you cannot even navigate the river. You're literally on top of each other," said Walter Sikkelerus, a Weeki Wachee resident. "I've been bringing up my kids here for 30 years. My kids are grown and I'm bringing my grandkids up here and I just want them to be able to bring their kids up here later on and have it as beautiful and as wild and pristine as possible.

"It'll definitely not only lower amount of garbage on the river, but it'll lower the damage to the banks from the number of people who are there," said Nellie Morse, who is a part of a volunteer group called the "River Rangers" that helps keep the river clean and has collected more than 4,000 pounds of trash since July 17, when they formed the group.

The state and county are now partnering to study the environmental impacts of recreational watercraft on the Weeki Wachee River.