Thursday, March 26, 2009

Save our State Parks

If you follow my blog, you know I'm a big fan of Florida's State Parks. I believe they highlight and preserve Florida's unique natural and cultural resources. So I'm not surprised that I received this email today.

"Dear Friend of Florida State Parks,

You have graciously joined our effort to protect the parks and now we need your help!! Please call and/or email your state representative and Senator TODAY. We need to communicate our concern about closing our parks and reducing service. You can usually find their contact information on first group of pages in your telephone directory under State of Florida government offices. Following is an editorial piece I have prepared to help with talking points. Best to use your own words rather than mine. Thanks in advance for your help.

This week’s news indicates significant cuts to Florida state agencies delivering services to our citizens. What has not been mentioned by the media is the proposal to close 58 state parks 2-3 days each week. On the days that these parks open, it will only be for 8 hours rather than the dawn till dusk access we now enjoy. Over 110 full-time park employees and ALL seasonal part-time employee positions are eliminated under this proposed reduction. The Florida state park system as we know it will change significantly and the entire operation for the Office of Greenways and Trails is proposed to be eliminated. Programs, services and access to our public lands will be dramatically curtailed. The park service will be lucky to be able to pay their utility bills and provide for the over 20 million people who visit our parks each year.

While gloomy economic news, bailouts and greed continue to make headlines, Florida State Parks have seen record attendance over the past 3 months. This is proof positive that Florida’s families NEED these parks in order to participate in healthy outdoors activities during times of stress. A family of 4 can visit a park for an entire day for a $5 per carload entry fee. They can even bring along Grandma and Grandpa. While visiting their favorite state park, Florida’s citizens can enjoy swimming, hiking, biking, picnicking and nature study, or just spend time reconnecting with each other. Contrast this with the typical $28 cost of a 2 hour movie for just Mom, Dad and the kids.

This is not the time to downsize the last affordable outdoor recreation for our citizenry. Some facts to put this cut in perspective:

  • Our park system is one of the most efficient in the nation. It is the ONLY State Park system that has twice achieved the National Gold Medal award.
  • Our 160 parks involve management of over 700,000 acres of public land including 3400 campsites, 230 cabins, over 100 miles of beach and 14,000 education and cultural programs are provided for Florida citizens.
  • Florida State Parks already generate over 54% of their operating budget through entry, camping and concession fees. Many of these fees are paid by out of state visitors.
  • Florida State Parks budget represents less than 0.1% of Florida’s overall state expenditures.
  • Florida State Parks generate over 1 billion dollars in direct economic impact and produced $70 million dollars in sales tax revenue while supporting over 20,000 private sector jobs – green economy jobs for nature based outfitters, concessionaires and all the support services that visitors use when traveling in our state.
  • Over 6,000 volunteers contributed well over one million hours of free service to the park system in 2007. Individual parks enjoy the support of over 80 citizen support organizations that are passionate about their park and prove it through contribution of their time and energy.

If you are as concerned about the proposed changes to our award winning state parks as we are, please call, write or email your local legislators and tell them to protect our public open space and outdoor recreation. Visit our website to learn more about the Friends of Florida State Parks and how you can become involved in saving Florida’s state parks for our children and grandchildren."

– Elaine McLaughlin, President Friends of Florida State Parks

I urge you to do what you can to help preserve our parks as a legacy for future generations. Here are some pictures from my visits I've taken to a few of our State Parks the last few months. I'd love to keep capturing more images and creating more memories like this in the future!

Florida Panther, Homosassa Spring State Parks

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Wakulla Springs State Park

Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Site

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins State Historic Site

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