Florida State’s Parks proposed budget cuts a path to disaster

March 31, 2009

Path at Grayton Beach State Park.
Path at Grayton Beach State Park.

Are our beloved parks at risk?

The mission of WaltonOutdoors.com is to provide resources for the outdoors for Walton County and the surrounding area, and not to express opinions on any particular subject. However, as an individual, and avid fan of our park system, I feel it is of the utmost importance to accentuate the impending disaster the proposed budget cuts will do to our state park system.

The latest state budget proposals are as is right now, proposals. However, if implemented, the cuts in funding will drastically reduce the integrity of our cherished parks.

The writing on the wall is frightening. If passed, locally we will see as much as 50 percent reductions in staff right here in Walton County. Striping the core of day-to-day operations spells disaster.

As it is now, the parks rely on local “Friends” organizations to help to fill the needed gap required for enhancements and maintenance. However, there is only so much the volunteer groups can do to fill in that gap.

I frequently visit, and fortunate enough to share with my readers the stories about our gems… our Florida State Parks.

I also see first hand, the dedication and passion the staffers work so hard to maintain. These caretakers are valuable assets, not only to the communities in which they work, but also to the thousands of visitors that appreciate the beauty of visiting our award winning parks. I simply cannot fathom the impact of their loss.

Sincerely,
Lori Ceier, Publisher
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I would like to share an opinion piece from the President of Friends Of Florida State Parks, Elaine McLaughlin.

Guest Editorial – Florida Park Service Budget Reduction

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

www.friendsoffloridastateparks.com

Write the governor direct:
Email: Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com
Office of Governor Charlie Crist
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001