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  • 03/20/2020 9:06 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today applauded the Florida Legislature for its appropriation of $140 million for Florida’s award-winning state parks, the best in the nation.

    Foundation President Gil Ziffer, said, “Florida State Parks and Trails represent one of the state’s greatest success stories. They are a major contributor to the state’s tourism industry, support thousands of jobs and pour billions of dollars into the state’s economy. At the same time, they preserve many of the jewels of our natural environment and Florida’s significant historical and cultural sites. The appropriation demonstrates our legislator’s ongoing commitment to supporting our state parks.”

    The House and Senate finally approved $37 million for park improvements, $4 million for ADA improvements and spending authority of almost $100 million. The Senate originally offered $27 million but agreed to match the House position after an intense email campaign by the Foundation. Florida Park Service staff also benefit from a much needed 3% raise for all state employees. 

    “As the acknowledged premier state park system in the nation, it is vital that the Florida Park Service receives adequate funding to ensure that our state parks continue to be the best that they can be. When you compare the $41 million that has been appropriated with the $2.6 billion in economic impact the state parks generated last year from almost 30 million visitors, it is difficult to think of a better return on the investment anywhere,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “We are grateful for the Florida State Parks Foundation’s successful efforts to educate legislators about the value and benefits of state parks,” said Florida State Park’s Director Eric Draper.

    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 20,000 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.

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  • 03/09/2020 8:51 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    A six-person wheelchair accessible electric tram is in service at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park thanks to a substantial grant from Florida Power & Light Company (FPL). 

    The grant to the Florida State Parks Foundation was made available through FPL’s charitable arm, the NextEra Energy Foundation.

    “This is a great way to start off 2020 which also marks the Florida Park Service’s 85thanniversary,” said Julia Gill Woodward, Florida State Parks Foundation CEO. “Both the Foundation and the Florida Park Service are committed to making our award-winning state parks more accessible and this new tram will not only lower emissions and be less noisy, but will be a great boost to visitors who use wheelchairs, enabling them to see more of the MacArthur’s incredible natural areas.”

    The MotoEV Electro Neighborhood Buddy six passenger tram has a four-kw AC motor for less maintenance and more torque to climb tough terrain. It can travel 50 miles on a single charge and costs about one penny a mile. The onboard chargers also allow the vehicle’s batteries to be topped up at any charging stations.

    “John D. MacArthur Beach State Park is known as a destination where Florida residents and visitors alike can enjoy the beaches, trails, kayaking, snorkeling, bird-watching and a host of other activities in natural surroundings, said Michael Sole, vice president, environmental services, FPL. “The electric tram is a great resource to help visitors access the beautiful park in a sustainable way.” 

    The Florida State Parks Foundation supports the work of Florida’s award-winning 175 state parks and the more than 20,000 volunteers who donate 1.2 million hours of their time annually. Florida’s parks attract 29 million visitors every year and have a statewide economic impact of more than $2.6 billion. 

  • 03/02/2020 1:36 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation is pleased to announce that Liza McFadden has been elected to the Board of Directors.

    “I am delighted to welcome Liza to the board”, said Gil Ziffer, Foundation President. “She brings a wealth of experience and expertise and will be a tremendous asset to the Foundation as we further our mission of supporting Florida’s fabulous state parks, the best in the nation.”

    McFadden is president of Liza and Partners which provides advisory services to philanthropists.  Her background includes 20-plus years serving as the chief executive officer of foundations, most recently as the president of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.  During her tenure, she transitioned the foundation from a traditional grant-making entity to the single largest technology provider in the United States of literacy services to low-literate adults.

    A former advisor to Governor Jeb Bush, she provided counsel on policy and program issues in education, and community and faith-based issues.  A lifelong advocate for education for all, Liza is a board member of K12, a publicly traded education management organization that provides online education for public schoolstudents.  She also serves on the national board of Reading Partners and the advisory board of Foundations, Inc.

    Liza McFadden is joining the Florida State Parks Foundation with a valued eye as a former board member of the Friends of Florida State Parks.  She shares, “the future of Florida is found by retaining the true essence of Florida.  The Florida State Parks Foundation captures that essence:  state parks are helping to save our springs today and ensuring the very best of Florida’s topography are the playground for our future generations.”  

    On a personal note, she added, “when my children were in elementary school, I served on the Friends of Florida State Parks board.  What an honor to now serve on Florida State Parks Foundation and to know my children are both majoring in environmental studies and – I believe – in no small part, due to their love of the state parks.” 

    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 20,000 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.

  • 01/31/2020 2:20 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today urged legislators to fully fund Governor DeSantis’ 2020-21 budget request for Florida’s award-winning state parks.

    “It is critical that the Florida Park Service receives adequate funding to ensure that our state parks continue to be the best that they can be,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “When you compare the $54 million that has been requested with the $2.6 billion in economic impact that the state parks generated last year, it is hard to think of a better return on the investment,” she said.

    Governor DeSantis’ FY20 budget included $54 million for fixed capital and land management and an additional $100 million for Florida Forever.

    Currently, both the Senate and House have indicated that their Florida Park Service allocations will fall short of the requested amount. The Senate has proposed $27 million and the House $37 million. 

    The House also proposes only $20 million for Florida Forever although the Senate proposes $125 million. 

    “Our state park system is acknowledged as the best in the nation,” said President Gil Ziffer. “This was recognized nationally by the award of a record fourth Gold Medal for Excellence just this past fall.” 

    “Our state parks contribute to the state’s tourism industry while preserving many of the jewels of our natural environments and Florida’s significant historical and cultural sites,” he said. 

    “State parks and trails located in small towns and rural areas are sometimes the only economic driver in the community.  Visitors coming to these parks spend dollars for lodging and in restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, bait shops, etc. If not for state park operations these businesses might not otherwise exist,” he added.

    Last year, state parks and trails served more than 28 million visitors generating $2.6 billion in direct economic impact to local communities statewide creating more than 37,000 jobs as a result of state park operations. In addition, over $176 million was raised in the form of state sales tax.

     “If our state parks are not adequately funded, aging infrastructure cannot be replaced, urgent repairs cannot be made and the park experience for our millions of visitors will be diminished. This will have a devastating impact on both economic returns and the environment,” said Ziffer.

    The Foundation, working with the Florida Park Service, supports the work of Florida’s award-winning 175 state parks’ staff, local Friends groups and the 14,500 volunteers who donate 1.2 million hours of their time every year working in them. 

  • 01/02/2020 10:38 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation announced today that a major grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation will allow the primitive group camp at St. Andrews State Park to be restored and improved.
    Thanks to the $60,000 grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation, the camp will be restored, and major improvements made. These will include a new activities pavilion as most of the shade trees were destroyed, picnic tables, grills, safety lighting, access improvements, improvements to the restroom, and rebuilding the fire circle. The improvements will allow for longer stays and better experiences for Group Campers. 
    While at the camp, youth participate in swimming, fishing, hiking, nature observation and many additional resource-based recreational activities. For many of these children it is the first time they have slept outdoors under the stars, she added.

    Over the years, the camp has served hundreds of organized youth groups, many from local communities, but it was severely impacted by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.Hundreds of trees were lost along with many of the facilities needed to support important recreational activities.

    “The camp is important to provide youth, many of whom are increasingly removed from the natural environment, the opportunity to camp overnight in the wild outdoors of Florida, to connect with nature and to build lasting relationships with their friends and the environment”, said Julia Gill Woodward, CEO of Florida State Park Foundation.

    “We are very pleased to assist with enhancing this educational venue within St. Andrews State Park,” said April Wilkes, Executive Director of St. Joe Community Foundation, ‘’it is sure to be another one of the great little hidden gems to experience within the park for both locals and tourists to enjoy.” 

    St. Andrews State Park offers remarkable resource-based public outdoor recreation opportunities unique to its location at the confluence of St. Andrew Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Last year it had over 650,000 visitors.

    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 20,000 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.

  • 12/27/2019 12:58 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Glass bottom boats, in one form or another, have been operating at Silver Springs since 1924, possibly earlier – it’s a point argued over by historians.  What is known for sure though is that none of them have ever been accessible to people using wheelchairs.

    The boats in operation now were built in the 1960s and 70s before the accessibility and technology standards we enjoy today were in place.   These boats are a beautiful unique design but are not wheelchair accessible and it isn’t feasible to retrofit them.  People using mobility devices such as wheelchairs and scooters are excluded from the tours because the passenger must be able to step in and out of the boat.  The only solution is to build a brand-new boat which is a worthy but costly undertaking.         

    In 2013, the state assumed operation of the Silver Springs attraction which was very run down. The expense to repair and revitalize park infrastructure combined with coping with hurricane damage done in 2018 (the roof of a just built educational pavilion was seriously damaged) prohibits the Park Service from undertaking the expense of a new accessible boat on its own.

    The final costs of this important project will run between $450-$500,000. The Florida State Parks Foundation is investing along with the Felburn Foundation, Friends of Silver Springs State Park, the Florida Park Service, Lay, Pitman & Associates, and the Cape Leisure Corporation. These combined donations bring about three quarters of the total amount needed.

    Please help fill the gap with your own donation.  Grassroots support from individuals and small businesses can make or break a project. 

    No one should get left behind on the dock just because they can’t walk.

    Please, make your donation here. And be sure to specify Glass Bottom Boat Project.

  • 12/09/2019 3:57 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation is pleased to announce that Tammy Gustafson has been elected to the Board of Directors. 

     “I am delighted to welcome Tammy to the board”, said Gil Ziffer, Foundation President. “She brings a wealth of experience and expertise and will be a tremendous asset to the Foundation as we further our mission of supporting Florida’s fabulous state parks, the best in the nation.” 

    Gustafson graduated from the Ohio State University and began her career in Marketing and Sales as an account executive for a local FOX affiliate in Columbus, Ohio. After moving to Orlando in 1995, she spent three years in related Marketing and Sales roles as an account executive for a UPN broadcast affiliate and managed major publicity accounts for Gilbert and Manjura Marketing, including St. Johns County, Florida, Visitors and Convention Bureau. 

    Gustafson is currently an Executive with Universal Parks and Resorts and is responsible for Sales Integration across the global sales divisions and works with International teams located in Latin America and the UK. She joined Universal Orlando in September of 1997 as part of the Universal Studios Marketing team and was responsible for building the Universal Studios Florida brand on a global basis- growing to three theme parks, a night-time entertainment complex and seven onsite resorts. 

    Appointed by the Governor’s office to the Florida Commission on Tourism, Gustafson served as President of the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors from 2014-15 and has been on the board since 2005. She currently serves on the Florida Council of Tourism Leaders. She has also served on the board for the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce/Osceola Resort Area Council and served as a Past President and Treasurer of the Florida State Parks Foundation.

    Gustafson brings years of experience and extensive travel industry knowledge to these organizations and has been a part of Leadership Orlando and the Central Florida Chapter of the American Marketing Association.  

    “Throughout its history, the Florida Parks greatest strength has been its volunteers. I am honored to be asked to serve in this capacity,” said Tammy Gustafson, Board of Directors. “The best and brightest minds are coming together to help guide and preserve the Real Florida. Its an exciting time for the Foundation as we work toward the Strategic Goals for the coming year.”  

    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 20,000 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.

  • 11/18/2019 1:39 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today applauded Governor Ron DeSantis’ budget recommendations for America’s Best Parks, our award-winning Florida State Parks. 

    Foundation President Gil Ziffer, said, “The system of Florida State Parks and Trails is one of the state’s greatest success stories.  They contribute mightily to the state’s tourism industry while preserving many of the jewels of our natural environments and Florida’s significant historical and cultural sites. The Governor’s recommended budget shows his commitment to a bolder, brighter and better Florida through our state parks.”

    Governor DeSantis’ FY21 budget request includes $50 million for land management and repair and replacement of park facilities, an increase of $18.5 million over current budget; $4 million for ADA improvements and $1 million to replace old and unsafe park vehicles, which is a new funding request for park rangers’ most important tool.  

    “It is imperative that the Florida Park Service receives adequate funding to ensure that our state parks continue to be the best that they can be. When you compare the $55 million that has been requested with the $2.6 billion in economic impact that the state parks generated last year, drawing over 30 million visitors, it is hard to think of any other example that is a better return on the investment,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    The Foundation, founded in 1993, works in partnership with the Florida Park Service, to support the work of Florida’s award-winning 175 state parks and staff, local Friends’ groups and the 20,000 volunteers who donate 1.2 million hours of their time every year working in them. 

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  • 09/26/2019 10:17 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida Park Service has won its fourth National Gold Medal for Excellence from the National Recreation and Park Association. Florida became the only state to win a third gold medal for excellence in 2013 and under the rules, the winning state cannot compete again for four years. 

    “We are proud of our staff, volunteers and partners for making Florida State Parks a gold medal system. Our goal is to protect the best of Florida’s natural and cultural resources while providing memorable experiences for our visitors”, said Eric Draper, Director of the Florida Park Service. 

    “We are delighted that our great state parks have been nationally recognized yet again. It is an incredible accomplishment,” said Ben Pingree, President of the Florida State Parks Foundation, the statewide nonprofit organization that supports the work of state parks.

    The Foundation supports all the local Friends groups working with individual parks and the 14,000 strong army of volunteers who last year volunteered more than 1.3 million hours of their time.

    In addition to the thousands of volunteers, 33,587 jobs are supported as a result of the state park system operations.

    Julia Gill Woodward, Florida State Parks Foundation CEO, stressed both the environmental and economic significance of Florida’s state parks. “In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, our parks had a $2.4 billion economic impact, which is the amount of new dollars spent in local economies by park operations and non-local park visitors,” she said.

    The Florida Park Service uses a money generation model designed for and used by the National Park Service to assess economic impact in the area around a park.

    “The economic impact is very important to Florida’s economy,” Draper said. “Florida state parks are a big business.”

    Florida’s state parks attract 28 million visitors last year from around the world with their diverse offering of more than 175 parks and 10 trails, 800,000 acres of land and 100 miles of beaches.

    “State parks and trails have inspired residents and visitors for more than 84 years and thanks to our stewardship, they will be doing that for generations to come,” Draper said.

  • 05/29/2019 3:04 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Getting Summer Camp Kids to the Parks

    By Paula Russo
    Yellow Buses in the Parks Grants Program Coordinator

    It seems humans have an innate drive to see what’s just around the next corner.  That’s because it’s good for us to get out and explore, meet new people, gain new perspectives…broaden our horizons.

    This applies to children the same as adults.  I think more so, because, as we all know, the effects of experiences we have as children often stay with us the rest of our lives.  A lot of what we understand and learn to value (or not) happens in child and young adulthood.  And, so, how can we expect the generation coming up now to know and appreciate Florida’s state parks if they’ve never been to any of them?

    Getting kids out on educational field trips to Florida State Parks is one of the Foundation’s highest priorities.  Through our grant program, Yellow Buses in the Parks (YB), we offer schools and after school/summer camp providers, like Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs, the funds needed to pay for field trip transportation costs to Florida State Parks. 

    Every trip we sponsor is required to have an educational component and the parks have some terrific programs designed just for that.  Programs like Wildlife Wonders and Marsh Madness at Savannas Preserve State Park in St Lucie County and Touch a Tree, at Manatee Springs State Park in Levy County which teaches 1st graders the essential needs of trees and why we should want them around to keep us cool and give us oxygen to breathe.  The Edible Aquifer activity at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala lets kids build a mini aquifer in a clear glass using ice and foods like crushed cookies and sprinkles to represent rocks and layers of soil, then they drip food coloring “pollutants” (fertilizers and motor oil) on top and watch it work it’s way down to their “drinking” water.  These are just a few of the variety  of programs offered for all ages at nearly every one of our 175 Florida State Parks.

    So where does the money come from to pay these transportation costs?  First, each year we dedicate a certain amount from an investment fund.  But, that’s not nearly enough as this year we’ve received worthy requests totaling over $55,000 just for children’s summer camp field trips!  We’re grateful to other nonprofit Foundations and individuals who are partnering with us to fulfill the summer camp field trip requests but we are still about $15,000 short of the need.

    Can you help?  I promise every dollar you donate down to the last cent will go directly towards the summer camp field trip transportation costs.

    Click here to donate and mark it for Yellow Buses in the Parks or just say “YB”.   And, thank you!


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