Draft Three Sisters Springs Management Plan

Three Sisters


Media release

March 9, 2018

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will Brief City Council 

on Proposed Three Sisters Springs Management Plan

Joyce Palmer, refuge manager of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, will present a proposal to the Crystal River City Council to maintain the beneficial partnership between the City of Crystal River and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and chart a positive path forward for the management of the Three Sisters Springs property.

She released the following statement outlining what the partnership would look like:

“Over the past several years, a lot of good things have happened on Three Sisters Springs because of the partnership between the city and the Service. The property was opened to the public because we were working together. The city initiated the off-site parking and trolley system and the Service provided the infrastructure, maintenance, volunteers, and educational programs for visitors.

“We hope to strengthen our partnership with the City of Crystal River through a new management plan and agreement that will provide the most benefits to the local community and the natural resources of Three Sisters Springs, while maintaining protection for manatees. The new plan will identify mutually agreed upon short- and long-term management goals for the property.

“Since 2012, the Service has spent nearly $1.5 million on development and construction at Three Sisters Springs for public access and enjoyment, including a 1,500-foot boardwalk, a picnic pavilion, entrance gate, and 1.75 miles of trails.

“Our new plan includes features that will improve visitor experiences on the property and have a strong positive impact on tourism and the local economy. We are prepared to invest significant funding (pending an updated management agreement) into permanent upgrades over the next two years, including:

• A permanent entry gate and booth, landscaping, and fencing at the public entrance off Three Sisters Springs Trail;
• New interpretive panels on existing trails;
• A permanent public restroom to replace the temporary toilets and handwashing station;
• Two viewing platforms for observation of manatees using Magnolia Springs;
• One observation platform for viewing wetland wildlife (herons, egrets and fish);
• Improvements on the nature trails, including wheelchair accessible surfaces;
• A buffer of native plants bordering Magnolia Springs and other areas where needed;
• Control of exotic and invasive plants.

Looking ahead several years, the Service hopes to provide:

• An outdoor environmental education facility;
• A pier or dock on the south side of Lake Crystal to provide recreational opportunities;
• Other infrastructure, recreational and habitat improvements as appropriate.

“We plan to continue to conduct free interpretive programs for visitors, including guided walking tours, and to implement an elementary education program with the Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

“The Service’s proposed management plan at Three Sisters also supports the city’s Comprehensive Plan by aligning with the city’s goals for conservation, recreation and coastal management.

“Three Sisters is important to local tourism, and is also one of the most important properties in Florida for manatee conservation. Hundreds of manatees use the site, which provides the warm water they need during cold months which is particularly important to mothers with newborn calves.

“If we don't reach agreement, the Service would no longer manage the springs as part of the refuge. The Service would continue to enforce the Endangered Species Act, the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge Rule, and manage the seven designated manatee sanctuaries. The Service may limit public access to the springs during extreme cold weather to protect manatees as needed but would not otherwise manage public use or other activities within the springs.

“We know from experience that we see the best results when we collaborate with partners in a shared vision. The Service hopes that city leaders will adopt this point of view as well, and with a new management agreement in place, we can continue to improve Three Sisters Springs.”