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City officials want tuber limits put in place

By Jeff Bryan

Overcrowding has become an issue at Blue Run Park, the city council says, and it has the power and authority to find a solution.

“My hope is we all recognize this issue exists,” said Councilman Bill White, who raised the issue of tubers flooding Blue Run Park, especially on the weekends and holidays throughout the summer months. “It is something that needs to be addressed. It needs to be done.”

Blue Run Park is supposed to be multi-faceted, White told his colleagues and citizens.

“It’s not supposed to be really for river use, tubing, kayaking,” he added. “This park was designed for hikers, bikers and walking your dog, nature lovers. Basically, you cannot get in there, you just cannot get in there because of the sea of humanity. This has been on the radar for a long, long time.”

His colleagues agreed, directing staff to engage the county in discussions about the management plan. Their No. 1 directive: limit the number of tubers who are allowed to enter KP Hole.

“It has gotten to the point it is dangerous, it is not healthy for river, it is not healthy for this town,” Vice Mayor Valerie Hancar said, noting there should be a certain amount of time they can tube the river and that shuttle services should be allowed to pick up would-be water users from Blue Run Park and transport them to the KP Hole.

According to the county’s website, tube rentals end at 1:45 p.m. daily throughout tubing season, which runs from April 1 through Sept. 30, and tubers must in the water by no later than 2 p.m.

“I think it should be cut off,” Hanchar added, noting she has photos of the “blackest, of black clouds” from a late-afternoon thunderstorm. “Someone is going to get hit by lightning.”

Mayor Dale Burns supported a tuber limit, even suggesting the city be allowed to control the vendors and charging an additional tax as opposed to the standard business permit. Assistant City Attorney Patrick Brackins said that’s not feasible and is against state statutes. If the county collects a business license, the city cannot also do it.

“You’re limited in what you can do in taxes and fees,” Brackins said, noting Florida State Statute 205.

Among White’s chief concerns is the amount of shuttle services creating a log jam in the parking lot throughout the afternoon hours. The county’s contracted shuttle service is Rainbow River Canoe & Kayak, which transports tubers from its Blue Run Park to the KP Hole. Three other services — Ride and Tube, Aquatic Wilderness and Rainbow River Kayak Adventure — offer rides from their respective businesses to KP Hole, with pick-up at Blue Run Park.

“With the success and expansion of the KP Hole parking,” White said, noting additional parking was added at KP Hole in 2008, “tubing has become wildly successful, creating a situation is on the weekends during the summer and holidays that is a mess.”

The success is so great, White said, that controlling what going on at Blue Run Park is becoming problematic.

“I have visited the takeout many times,” he said, noting he visited on a recent Sunday to take pictures, which showed throngs of tubes stacked up and lines of people waiting for buses. “It was a human wall of people. You couldn’t even get through there if you wanted to enter the water.”

If one was trying to use the kayak launch at Blue Run Park during these times, White said, you would have to navigate the crowds, the stacks of tubes and other equipment.

“We also have hundreds of people walking around,” he added, noting if traffic in the Blue Run Parking lot backs up, it has the potential to thwart the flow of traffic along County Road 484. “Other cars, even those who have no intention of utilizing Blue Run Park get trapped.”

The Dunnellon Police Department, at the expense of the county, staffs an officer for five hours on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The officers, White said, do their best to control the traffic in and around the park.

“We have gotten to the point, the city and county need to address this,” White said. “Truly, truly, if you didn’t have officer there doing what you’re doing it would really be chaotic.”

On top of that danger, there are visual problems, with tubes, vans, cars and people walking around.

“You cannot see what’s going on,” White lamented. “It’s just a matter of time before someone gets hit.”

Burns believes if everyone is on board and negotiates in good faith, a deal can be worked out.

“The county will make a great partner, as long as they understand,” Burns said. “They’re great, (Parks and Recreation Director) Jim Couillard and his staff, Commissioner Bryant, Commissioner Moore, they’ve all been very positive.”

Key, Burns said, is allowing the worker bees, the staff, to do their job.

“Personally, let the worker bees do the work and keep the politics out of it,” Burns said. “Politics make things churn.”

White doesn’t want the city to be in the position to unilaterally make the rules.

“We want to include everyone,” he stressed. “Ultimately, if that doesn’t happen, the city does have authority to move forward on its own. If it happens, we’ll see what the city has to do.”

Several residents, who admitted to owning riverfront property, sided with the council in implementing a tuber limit.

“The discussion about congestion is very understandable, it has to be solved,” said Burt Eno, president of Rainbow River Conservation, who added “a number of tubers are out there to party” and misbehave constantly. “What they’re doing is disturbing water, disturbing the bottom, essentially destroying native vegetation in the river.”