{ Editor’s note: As of this writing, due to the corona virus pandemic, only the Buccaneer Bay water park was open at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, with people asked to leave the water by 4 p.m. daily. All other park activities, including wildlife and mermaid shows, are canceled until further notice.}

WEEKI WACHEE — It’s good to have friends—even if you happen to be a state park.

The Friends of Weeki Wachee is a nonprofit group of volunteers who have befriended Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, helping operate and fund the historic home of live mermaids.

As the Buccaneer Bay water park there prepares to open for the busy summer season, the eight-member board and group, along with a few other volunteers, is shifting gears to prepare for the crowds and extra support needed, said Gail Anderson, vice president of the Friends.

That could change, of course, as the evolving coronavirus situation could mean the park, which sees as many as 1,400 visitors a day, seven days a week, responds to the threat. Florida has declared a state of emergency over the virus.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Anderson, but no matter what, like all good friends, her group is on tap to help with whatever is needed.

With so many paying admission daily — $13 per adult and $8 per child — one might think Weeki Wachee doesn’t need the support of the Friends of Weeki Wachee, but not all that money can be used on site, said Anderson.

She explained that the admission revenues are sent to the state and divided among other state parks, only an equal share coming back to Week Wachee.

So when it came time to repave the parking lot at the mermaid park, it was the Friends who stepped up to help cover the cost. It also helps with regular maintenance costs and projects to improve the park, Anderson said. She said the Friends have donated over $1 million to the park since 2009, $200,000 of that donated last year. Members of the group also step in to help man the park, working as guest services staff.

The Friends operates Mermaid Cove, a small gift shop at the entrance gate of the park, which helps raise some of that money, and Anderson encourages people to stop in a buy, as the revenue from the shop is funneled into the park rather that going to the state first.

Anderson said her group could use a few more volunteers. The group’s website is www.friendsofweekiwachee.com and it has a Facebook page under that name.

“We’re looking for people,” she said, adding it is very rewarding work. She’s been at it for going on three years and says like other members, she’s there for the long haul.

Anita Mosley is the treasurer of the Friends. She was an employee of the park before retiring and going to work for Guest Services, which runs the concessions there. She joined the Friends when it formed 10 years ago.

“I love it,” she said of working at the park and volunteering on the side with the Friends. “There’s nothing I’d rather do.”

Mosley and Anderson agreed that among the most rewarding work they do at the park is heading up the Sirens Camp, in which adults come for a mermaid camp and swim with former attraction mermaids. They also run the Junior Mermaid program, the Rangers Camp and Lifeguard Camp. Revenue from all is used by the Friends to buoy park operations and projects.