New refuge center will immerse you in the world of manatees | Local News


The Citrus County manatee watching experience draws people from all over the world as they can swim with the manatees.

That alone is a huge tourism coup. But there was one component of that experience that was lacking and it is about to change this spring.

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge will open its new state-of-the-art Visitor Center at 1520 SE King’s Bay Drive and from the moment visitors enter they will be immersed in the world of water, manatees and more. The resort is expected to attract 40,000 visitors per year and improve the tourist experience in Crystal River and across the county.

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The Citrus County Tourism Development Council (TDC) unanimously approved spending an additional $ 100,000 in November to help the expansion of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The council previously gave the agency $ 100,000 to help cover the costs of installing interactive displays and exhibits.

The new Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge will feature interactive displays to educate visitors about Three Sisters Springs and the nearby waterways.

It will be like a Manatee 101 for visitors who will learn their anatomy, their habits and the best way to protect them.

John Pricher, director of the Citrus County Visitors Bureau, said he is confident this new interactive component will enhance manatee adventure for locals and tourists alike and fulfill TDC’s primary purpose of putting “the head in the beds “.

Instead of leaving right after swimming with the manatees, he said visitors would be more likely to stay longer in Citrus County and stay at one of the hotels in the area and pump money into the local economy.

“I think having this new way of learning more about them in a really high-end display is something that is going to be invaluable for us as a destination,” said Pricher. “It’ll be the thing that really makes this whole visitor experience better.”

The education center is practically above the main manatee viewing areas which helps. It can work either way, Pricher said. Someone may first go to the refuge, get excited about the manatees, and check out Three Sisters Springs. Or vice versa.

“Having something else that covers one of our key products for inclement weather is something we were missing as well,” he said.

Michael Engiles, president of the Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, described the visitor experience as follows:

When you walk through the gate, it will be like stepping into a 10ft underwater (karst) landscape, with boulders, aquifers, and different formations. There will be rock ledges on either side.

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Visitors to the new Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge center can learn all about the manatee way of life before or after seeing them up close in the water.

By the middle of the installation, the ceiling will appear a shimmering blue – mimicking waves – and you’ll see manatees hanging from the ceiling. There will be exhibits surrounding them and each one will feature a different theme, including manatee biology and habitat, their preservation, information about Three Sisters Spring, the watershed and the clarity of the water. There will be exhibits on other water birds, such as egrets, herons and varieties of fish.

“It’s not just about coming to learn, but how we can protect them and save water and promote the economy and conservation activities that help springs and manatees,” Engiles said.

The Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge had hoped to open the center before Christmas, but the pandemic left them behind and they are now shooting for a spring premiere.

The Friends of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, in a recent presentation to the TDC board of directors, said the new refuge will be a “portal to exploring other destinations in the county,” resulting in more tourist stays. long and repeated visits.

It also has the potential to become a “top destination” for tourists visiting Citrus County, they said.

Bonnie Rybak, board member of the Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, told a recent TDC meeting that the new state-of-the-art visitor center “is going to be a gem.”


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