Located within the heart of the 16,000-acre Flying Eagle Preserve in Citrus County, is the 170-acre Flying Eagle Nature Center.
Built in the 1970s as a Boy Scout campground and formerly known as the McGregor Smith Scout Reservation, the nature center is nestled among heavily wooded oak hammocks. The center’s rustic facilities include a multipurpose building, lodge, two residences, six cabins, 10 semi-primitive group camping areas, commercial kitchen, large pavilion area, swimming pool and other support structures. The center can also accommodate a variety of recreational uses and features both archery and target shooting ranges.
However, the Gulf Ridge Council of the Boy Scouts of America announced in February it was ending its lease with the District because it was no longer capable of maintaining the center’s aging infrastructure, leaving the Governing Board with a difficult decision to make.
“The Board was really left with two options,” explains Roy Mazur, District Operations and Land Management bureau chief. “Either authorize staff to demolish the majority of the existing infrastructure or find a new partner who would be willing to make a financial investment to upgrade the facilities.”
In April, the Governing Board directed staff to make every effort to find a public or private partner to enter into a long-term lease agreement for the development, operation and maintenance of the center before resorting to demolishing the facilities.
“I really feel like this is a site with a lot of potential,” said Doug Tharp, District Governing Board secretary. “We need to be proactive and really put forth some effort.”
A diverse team of staff from the Operations & Land Management, Finance, Communications and Public Affairs bureaus was immediately tasked with developing and marketing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the management of the center.
Cheryl Hill, District land program coordinator who was tasked with leading the project team, says staff quickly became versed in campground marketing.
“None of us had any experience marketing campgrounds,” said Hill. “So we immediately began researching how campgrounds are marketed around the country, who were the audiences we wanted to reach and how we were going to reach to them.”
In addition to developing the RFP, staff developed a comprehensive marketing plan to reach a variety of local, national and international public and private entities. Staff developed marketing materials and a website at WaterMatters.org/FlyingEagle as well as purchased traditional and online advertisements, employed traditional and social media, and facilitated multiple tours of the property from June through September.
The RFPs were due in mid-October and staff will update the Governing Board in November before entering into any contract negotiations with a public or private partner.
“My hope is that we will be able to find a great partner who will be able to come in and really invest in the nature center,” said Mazur. “Keeping the center alive would be a great asset to the community.”