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  • 04/19/2019 7:02 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida House and Senate are preparing to conference on the 2019-2020 state budget next week, and as it currently stands, both budgets fall far short of the $54 million Governor DeSantis requested for our State Parks. So here at the Foundation, we’re doubling down our efforts to make sure our state parks receive the resources they need!

    Will you join us by sending an email to four key legislators urging them to fully fund our Florida State Parks in the 2019-2020 state budget?

    Florida’s state parks are one of the state’s greatest success stories, and they continue to yield a massive return on investment. Last year over $158 million was raised in state sales taxes, and more than 33,000 jobs were supported in local communities thanks to state park operations. In total, 28 million visitors generated $2.4 billion in direct economic impact -- despite the impact of Hurricane Michael!

    If the legislature fails to adequately fund our Florida State Parks, it won’t just be the parks themselves that feel the impact. Floridians could lose their jobs, the state could lose sales tax revenue, and local communities could lose out on the economic impact park visitors bring.

    We’re fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen, but we need your support. Legislators are meeting soon to conference on the state budget, so we need you to reach out to key committee members and make sure they know Floridians want them to fully fund the Florida Park Service.

    Will you add your voice in support of fully funding our Florida State Parks by emailing Rep. Travis Cummings, Rep. Holly Rachein, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, and Sen. Rob Bradley today?

    Thank you,

    The Florida State Parks Foundation

  • 03/27/2019 8:29 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Every volunteer is exceptional and each one of them deserves recognition but throughout the park service there are a few that merit a special mention. One of these is John Leaman, who volunteers at Wekiwa Springs State Park.

    John started donating his time at the park in 1974 just three years after it opened so he has now accrued 45 years of volunteer service. I don’t know if that is a record, but I would love to hear about anyone else who has put in this amount of time or more.

    In 1990, John was a co-founder of the Citizens for Wekiwa Springs State Park, the CSO group which later became Wekiva Wilderness Trust. He has served in every officer capacity on the board – and he still serves as a board director today. Despite ill-health he generously and cheerfully donates hundreds of hours every year acting as a docent at the nature center and attracting large crowds for his gator presentations.

    John is also the inspiration behind the Serenity Garden - the ‘park within a park’ – that is being designed at Wekiwa Springs. John was on duty at the nature center one day and looked up at a disturbed area of the park that was ablaze with insects, humming birds and wild flowers. He thought that if this area was planned correctly it would be the perfect place for people, whatever their disabilities, to be able to enjoy the park experience in a safe environment.

    That was how the Serenity Garden came about. The 1.2-acre Garden, the only one of its kind in the United States, will, hopefully, become the model for others not just in Florida’s state parks but in public spaces across the nation and overseas.

    It is not just the dedication that is important when it comes to volunteering, it is the passion and inspiration that comes along with it.

  • 03/27/2019 8:21 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Senator Rob Bradley has been named the first recipient of the Park Champion of the Year Award by the Florida State Parks Foundation.

    We created this award to recognize and honor the person deemed to have made the most outstanding contribution to help sustain, protect and preserve Florida’s award-winning state parks. Senator Bradley was delighted to receive his award at a recent ceremony in Tallahassee attended by the Foundation’s board of directors and Eric Draper, Director of the Florida Park Service.

    Senator Bradley, who represents the 5th District, “has long been a passionate advocate for Florida Parks and as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee last year, was able to secure $100 million of funding for Florida Forever. He truly is a Park Champion,” said Ben Pingree, Foundation President.

  • 03/27/2019 8:11 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Oscars may take top billing among the entertainment world of awards but there are some other ceremonies that are right up there with them. 

    These events are, of course, the awards presented each year to recognize the outstanding contributions made by our amazing army of volunteers in Florida State Parks!

    We know what an invaluable, indispensable resource our volunteers are. The facts speak for themselves and it is up to every one of us to shout them from the roof tops so that everyone knows what it is that we do that makes our state parks the best in the nation.

    Hot off the presses are the statistics for last year:

    Nearly 14,500 volunteers contributed 1.3 million hours of service to 175 state parks.

    Volunteer support was the equivalent of 623 Full-Time Employees (FTEs) with a value added of $32 million.

    Volunteers were 59% of the park service’s total workforce (FPS has 1,050 FTEs).

    83 CSOs, non-profit organizations of volunteers, raised and contributed an estimated $4 million to complete all types of park projects benefiting the state park system.

    CSOs fund park infrastructure, boardwalks, interpretive panels, sponsor special events, provide visitors’ tours and presentations, enhance universal access to natural and cultural resources, purchase vehicles, equipment and supplies.

    Volunteers serve in all areas of Visitor Services, Administration, Resource Management, Protection and Maintenance:

    • 69,677 hours to Administration – defined as clerical, filing, telephone work, certain types of research, tracking volunteer hours, orientation and training, data entry, purchasing, grant writing, and more!
    • 588,900 hours to Maintenance – defined as repairs and facility improvements, equipment and grounds, carpentry, trail maintenance, plumbing, masonry, trash pick-up, restroom upkeep, vehicle and equipment maintenance, small engine work, electrical work, construction projects, and more!
    • 11,717 hours to Protection – defined as visitor safety, employee safety, emergency preparedness, emergency response, rule enforcement, voluntary compliance, facility and environmental protection, First Aid, CPR, state/vehicle/watercraft operation, and more!
    • 141,265 hours to Resource Management – defined as both natural and cultural resource management including exotic species identification and control, plant and animal identification, ecological or cultural restoration, prescribed fire, lake watch, species monitoring, seed collection, historic collections management, research, and more!
    • 386,614 hours to Visitor Services – defined as providing information, customer service, interpretation, docent, historical and re-enactment, assisting visitors in the ranger station, museum or visitor center, tram rides, concessions, special events, boat tours, educational programs, guided walks, public speaking, volunteer management, visitor program evaluations and more!

    Volunteers are the life blood of the state parks. Thanks to each and every one of you for your service! 

  • 03/24/2019 10:00 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation has two important announcements this month! The first is to introduce you to Julia Gill Woodward, our new Chief Executive Officer, and the second is a call to action as the Florida Legislature discusses the 2019-2020 budget for the Florida Park Service.

    We are delighted to announce the hiring of Julia Gill Woodward as our new Chief Executive Officer effective immediately.

    "I'm honored and thrilled to serve as the Chief Executive Officer for the Florida State Parks Foundation. As a ninth generation Floridian, my love for our state and our award-winning park system runs deep. I can't imagine a better job than to help protect, preserve and sustain our state's natural treasures for generations to come," she said.

    Foundation President Ben Pingree said, “The search for a new CEO has been long and thorough because we were determined to wait until we could find the right person for the job. With Julia, we are confident that we now have the right person in place to lead us as we embrace a challenging yet exciting future.”

    Julia is a dynamic leader with more than ten years of campaign and government experience. She has worked across the spectrum in Florida politics – including managing multiple campaigns, serving as a Congressional Chief of Staff in Washington DC and most recently, managing Gwen Graham’s Florida gubernatorial bid. 

    In addition to her campaign and governmental management experience, Julia has helped raise more than $25 million dollars for candidates and organizations throughout the course of her career.

    One of her first actions as CEO was to hold a press conference in Tallahassee in support of the Governor’s request for $54 million funding for the Florida Park Service (FPS) in this year’s budget. So far, both the Senate and House have indicated that their FPS allocations will fall short of this amount. The Governor has also requested an additional $100 million to go to Florida Forever.

    “It is imperative that the Florida Park Service receives adequate funding to ensure that our award-winning state parks continue to be the best that they can be. When you compare the $54 million that has been requested with the $3 billion in economic impact that the state parks generate, it is hard to think of any other example that is a better return on the investment,” Woodward said.

  • 01/24/2019 3:20 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation is pleased to announce the addition of four new members to the Board of Directors: Gwen Graham, Wendy Spencer, Karen Cyphers and Dale Brill.

    "I am delighted to welcome our four new board members," said Ben Pingree, Foundation President. "These individuals bring a wealth of experience and expertise in their fields and will be tremendous assets to the Foundation as we further our mission of supporting Florida's fabulous state parks, the best in the nation."

    "These four individuals are an outstanding statement of who we are as a Foundation," said President Elect, Gil Ziffer. 

    As U.S. Representative for Florida's 2nd congressional district from 2015 to 2017, Gwen Graham made protecting Florida's environment a priority. She co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to stop oil drilling off Florida's beaches, rallied Florida's congressional delegation to support the Apalachicola Bay, and supported Florida counties in their campaigns against fracking. In 2018, she made defending Florida's natural treasures a key issue of her gubernatorial campaign and she is dedicated to protecting Florida's state parks. She is the daughter of pioneering environmentalist, former Governor and former United States Senator Bob Graham. 

    Wendy Spencer serves as President and CEO of Leadership Florida. Prior to this she served as Chief Executive Officer at the Corporation for National and Community Service which administers AmeriCorps, VISTA, Senior Corps and promotes service across the nation. She is a former Director of the Florida Park Service, and from 2003 to 2012, she served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Governor's Commission on Volunteerism, commonly known as Volunteer Florida. 

    Karen Halperin Cyphers, PhD., is vice president of research with Sachs Media Group. Formerly she was director of health care policy with the Florida Medical Association and served as deputy policy chief for health and human services in the Governor's Office of Policy and Budget. She is also an adjunct instructor of public policy at Florida State. 

    Dale Brill, PhD., is Senior Vice President Research and Community Development, Orlando Economic Partnership. He was formerly President of the Florida Chamber Foundation, Chief Marketing Officer of Visit Florida, Dean of e-commerce, General Motors Corp., and Executive Director of the Governor's Office if Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.

    The Foundation, founded in 1993 as Friends of Florida State Parks and renamed in 2018, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation whose mission is to support and help sustain the Florida Park Service, its 175 award-winning parks and trails, local Friends groups and more than 13,000 park volunteers.

    It does this through programs that preserve and protect state parks, educate visitors about the value of state parks, encourage community engagement and active use of state parks, and advocacy.

    The volunteer Board of Directors represent private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 01/24/2019 2:55 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    No matter how you look at it, Florida’s award-winning state parks are big business. Last year, they attracted 28 million visitors and had a $2.4 billion direct economic impact on the state. The parks supported 33,587 jobs statewide and generated $158 million in annual Florida sales tax revenue.

    These would be very impressive figures if this was a private sector company – it is even more remarkable when you consider that this is a state-run organization within the Department of Environmental Protection.

    The Florida Park Service has two things going for it that makes it special. The first thing is financial. It is operated very professionally and successfully as if it were a big business, which is exactly what it is. The FPS is around 80 percent self-sufficient, a figure that most other state park systems nationwide would be envious of.

    The second thing is all the people who are associated with the parks and make them so great. Eric Draper, Florida State Park Director, loves to say ‘people make the parks’ – and he is right.

    These people include more than 1,000 dedicated and passionate staff who work in the parks alongside the 15,000 committed volunteers who last year contributed an amazing 1.3 million volunteer hours. This group also includes the concessionaires who operate everything from canoe rentals and stores to horse riding and restaurants that enhance the visitor experience, and the thousands of other people who are employed outside the park but whose jobs rely on the visitors and services the park guests enjoy.

    And, of course, these people include the over 28 million visitors who visit and recreate in the parks every year. Many of these people are frequent visitors, sometimes even daily visitors, who enjoy the parks for their walks, runs, swims or birdwatching. Many of these visitors come from around the globe, perhaps stumbling upon the state parks by chance, and cannot then get enough of them.

    It is so heartwarming to talk to a family from Britain who discovered a state park on a previous visit to Florida and made sure they had more time to explore it when they came back on vacation.

    So, despite all the challenges that Florida State Parks face – such as hurricanes, aging infrastructure, and competition from other attractions – there will always be a need for them because the people want them! As the state’s population increases, the demand for access to undisturbed public spaces will increase and the pressure on the parks will grow.

    It is up to all of us – all the people that make the parks – to ensure that our state parks are protected and preserved not just for our own pleasure, but for all the generations to come.

  • 12/17/2018 2:03 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Don Philpott, Executive Director

    Florida’s magnificent, award-winning state parks have won the national Gold Medal for Excellence a record three times, something that no other state has been able to achieve.

    Our 175 state parks and trails attract more than 30 million visitors a year and pump over $3 billion into the Florida economy. Yet this all comes at a cost.

    As visitation increases so does the wear and tear and the need to maintain an infrastructure that in many cases is already in urgent need of replacement. A recent survey of parks found that the cost of repairing and restoring this aging infrastructure statewide is about $1 billion. In addition, there are many capital projects needed to enhance the visitor experience and ensure the parks remain vibrant for future generations.

    While the parks are increasingly self-supporting, currently over 80% self-sufficient, there is no money available for this enormous backlog of work and the problem is further exacerbated when hurricanes like Irma and Michael strike causing tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damage that was not budgeted for.

    So as 2018 draws to a close, there are many ways that you can show your support of Florida’s parks and all that they stand for. You can, of course, volunteer and there are scores of volunteer opportunities especially if you have special skills and talents. You get to work in some of Florida’s most beautiful environments alongside like-minded volunteers who love the parks as much as you do.

    You can also choose to make a gift either to your local park or to the Florida State Parks Foundation, the statewide group, that supports the work of all the local Friends groups and an army of 11,000 volunteers.

    Giving can be in the form of an end of year donation or you can check with your employer to see if they have a monthly giving plan where your donation is taken out of your pay check and sent to the nonprofit of your choice.

    However one chooses to give, December is the most popular time to make a donation. In 2017, Americans gave $410 billion to charities – up 5% over 2016 – and nearly one third of that was given in the month of December. That means that in 31 days, Americans gave $125 billion to nonprofit organizations.

    If you love our state parks, please consider making an end of year donation to help support them. No amount is too small, and every cent goes towards projects in the park. Thank you.

  • 12/17/2018 1:43 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Paula Russo, Immediate Past President

    The Florida State Parks Foundation believes it’s vital that children grow up understanding the importance of protecting our natural environment and knowing of Florida’s deep history and past cultures. Our state parks are ideal adjunct classrooms and two of the Foundation’s most important programs work to get as many kids into the parks as possible. 

    The first of the two programs is called, Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE), which is a model for science-based environmental education on public conservation lands. Each program represents a partnership between a Florida State Park and one or more school districts to bring students outdoors to learn science through hands-on field labs facilitated by educators, scientists, and land/resource managers.

    With financial help, a LIFE Program site is in development now at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The park has renovated and transformed a former storage building into a perfect classroom and now it needs to be outfitted with tables, chairs, white board, and equipment like microscopes, and plankton and seine nets. These items, and much more, is what it takes to “grow” scientists. It’s a long list and costs add up fast.

    The second program is known as Yellow Buses in the Parks. Its purpose is to pay for field trip transportation costs which are often out of reach for many school districts in Florida, especially in economically depressed areas. More field trips mean more school children can benefit from these great educational experiences in the parks!

    If you’re looking for a worthy cause to support with a holiday or year-end tax-deductible gift, please consider these programs. Your contribution will help us expand these programs and reach more children.  Click here and be sure to indicate which program you’d like your donation to go to! 

  • 12/14/2018 11:53 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    As the year draws to a close, it is also time to think about our volunteers who give so much. Since 1998, the Board of Directors of the Florida State Parks Foundation has annually recognized outstanding service of individuals and groups of volunteers in Florida State Parks. This year we have simplified the submission process by creating an online nomination portal. Please help get the word out and encourage nominations. The committee looks forward to reviewing the submissions -- it is truly an honor and privilege to do so.

    Last year the number of award categories was increased so that more volunteers could be recognized, and this proved enormously popular. For 2018 awards, a volunteer can be nominated in any appropriate category or in several categories if relevant. We will also recognize individuals who have 20, 25- and 30-years cumulative volunteer service. They will receive a special pin.

    If you know of an individual or a group of volunteers that deserves nominating, please speak with your park manager or Park Services Specialist. The deadline for online submissions is December 20, which can be submitted here.

    Nominations categories are:

    • 1.     ADULT VOLUNTEER: One person aged 18 years and above.
    • 2.     CORPORATE: A group of company employees working on one park project.
    • 3.     LONG PROJECT: Those CSO/park combined partnership projects that have taken more than one year to complete. 
    • 4.     SHORT PROJECT: Those CSO/park combined partnership projects that have taken less than one year to complete.
    • 5.     SPECIAL EVENT:  A one-time event or an annual event.  A recurring annual event may be nominated but it must have occurred within 12 months of date the nomination is submitted.
    • 6.     YEARS OF SERVICE: Awards will be given to any individual contributing an accumulation of 20, 25, & 30 years volunteer service.  These need not be consecutive years, but cumulative.
    • 7.     YOUTH VOLUNTEER: Anyone under 18 years of age.
    • 8.     ADMINISTRATION:  The term ADMINISTRATION refers to clerical work, filing, answering the telephone, certain types of research, tracking volunteer hours, orientation and training, data entry, purchasing, grant writing or tracking, etc. 
    • 9.     MAINTENANCE: The term MAINTENANCE refers to upkeep, repairs and improvements to facilities, equipment and grounds, carpentry, trail maintenance, plumbing, masonry, painting, preventative maintenance, mowing, trash pick-up, restroom upkeep, vehicle and equipment maintenance, small engine work, electrical work, construction projects, etc.
    • 10.  PROTECTION: The term PROTECTION refers to visitor safety, employee safety, emergency preparedness, emergency response, law enforcement, rule enforcement   , voluntary compliance, facility and environmental protection, First Aid, CPR, state vehicle/ watercraft operation, etc. 
    • 11.  RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: The term RESOURCE MANAGEMENT includes both natural and cultural resources and refers to exotic species identification and control, plant and animal identification, ecological or cultural restoration, prescribed fire, lake watch, species monitoring, seed collecting, historical collections management, research, etc.
    • 12.  VISITOR SERVICES:  The term VISITOR SERVICES refer to providing information and access, customer service, interpretation, docent, historical and re-enactment, assisting visitors in the ranger station or visitor center, tram rides, concessions, special events, boat tours, educational programs, guided walks, public speaking, volunteer management, visitor program evaluations, etc.

    In fiscal year 2017-18, volunteers contributed more than 1.3 million hours of service. These awards recognize the many volunteers who give so much of themselves to the state park system. We look forward to honoring them for their dedicated service!

    Remember, the deadline for online submissions is December 20, which can be submitted here.

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