During the winter months, as well as cold fronts, the springs are home to more than 150 endangered manatees, a beloved species known for being a “gentle giant.”  Visitors from all over the world travel to the area to see the manatees, providing a boon to the local economy and an opportunity to educate tourists about the ecosystem needs of the imperiled manatee population.

Both conservationists and developers had been eyeing the Three Sisters Springs property for decades. Development was a real possibility, as the property is situated in an urban area and had been zoned for 400 homes.  However, this is a place that many in the community wanted to preserve.

We worked with numerous public and private partners for several years to complete a conservation project that protects nearly 60 acres of property at Crystal River.  Our work started back in 2005, when we began working with the landowner, as well as several local and federal partners, to find a way to conserve the property. We worked on structuring and securing funding. Finally, in 2011, the property was preserved from development and became managed as a wildlife refuge.

“We finally did it,” said Matt Sexton, senior vice president at The Conservation Fund.  “This complex transaction required careful orchestration, but the overwhelming support kept it going.  We’re thankful to all of our partners, especially those donors who provided support to the Fund, the landowners, for their patience and commitment to seeing this property preserved, and the community, who saw this as the last chance to protect the city’s namesake.”

Cindy Dohner, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that the Three Sisters Springs was the National Wildlife Refuge System’s “top land conservation priority in the Southeast.”  

Funding Sources

Three Sisters is a great example of how conservation efforts can require complex funding but are still very much achievable. Funding for the $10.5 million project came from a variety of sources:

  • $3.3 million in federal funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North America Wetlands Conservation Act, secured with the help of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz;
  • Nearly $5 million in state funding from the Florida Forever / Florida Communities Trust program and SWFWMD;
  • $300,000 from the City of Crystal River, Citrus County and the Citrus County Tourist Development Council;
  • Nearly $2 million came through the fundraising efforts of The Conservation Fund, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Friends of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the Save the Manatee Club and many individuals in the local community.


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Places We Save: Wild Havens