"It is amazing that as we celebrate our 25th anniversary with a new name, we also receive a bequest of over $18 million to provide support services to our state parks," according to Paula Russo, President of the Foundation.
The bequest is from a Wisconsin land owner who occasionally spent his winters in Florida and loved visiting the state parks. "We are obviously delighted and deeply grateful because we are now able to do so much more for our parks, staff and volunteers, and the millions of people who visit them. The majority of the money has been placed in an endowment fund to provide long-term support," said Russo.
The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is dedicated to enhancing and perpetuating the Florida state park system for the people of Florida and its visitors. Its mission is to support Florida's state parks through programs that preserve and protect them, educate visitors about the value of state parks, encourage civic engagement through Citizen Support Organizations and volunteering, and by providing financial support.
Florida has 175 state parks and trails and is the only state to have won the national Gold Medal for Excellence three times. The Foundation supports the work of the 83 local Friends Groups and the 14,000 volunteers who annually donate 1.2 million hours working in the parks. Last year Florida's state parks attracted about 30 million visitors and contributed $3.2 billion to the state's economy.
The Foundation's main focus areas are supporting all the volunteer Friends groups, increasing accessibility for all and expanding environmental and educational programs.
The Foundation runs the LIFE program – Learning in Florida's Environments – which encourages schools throughout the state to use their local state parks as open air classrooms for curriculum-approved science labs. To date, 34 state parks offer the LIFE program or are working to offer it within the next year. The goal is to have at least 50 state parks offering the LIFE program by the end of 2019 which will mean between 75,000 and 100,000 schoolchildren being introduced to science in the parks.
Florida State Parks Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, volunteer organization, supporting Florida's 175 award-winning parks and trails.