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  • 05/03/2021 8:01 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today applauded the Legislature’s decision to fully fund Florida’s award-winning state parks.

    “In every sense this has been one of the most successful legislative sessions ever as far as Florida’s award-winning state parks are concerned. This is a year of record funding,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

    “Both the House and the Senate recognized the important multi-faceted role that our state parks play and agreed to increased funding over and above that requested by the Governor,” he said.

    The final approved budget provides $50 million for fixed capital outlay for facility repairs, improvements and so on, $13.8 million for the Land and Recreation Grant programs, $1.5 m for recreational trails programs, and $2 million for Florida Recreational Development Assistance programs.

    “Florida State Parks 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,” Ziffer said.

    “As the acknowledged premier state park system in the nation, it is vital that Florida State Parks continue to receive full funding and we are grateful that the legislature acknowledged this. When comparing the $50 million that has been provided for fixed capital outlay in the budget with the $2.6 billion in economic impact the state parks generated in 2019 from nearly 30 million visitors, it is difficult to think of a better return on the investment anywhere,” he said.

    “Florida’s state parks play an important role in providing open spaces where people can recreate and exercise in a safe, socially distanced environment. The demand for these open spaces will continue to increase as Florida’s population is expected to top 23 million by 2025 and tourism numbers grow,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “To meet this growing demand, it is important that state parks continue to provide exceptional value in terms of visitor experience and the range of outdoor pursuits available. It is also important that these pursuits are available to the widest possible audience both in terms of accessibility and diversity,” she said.

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 04/30/2021 8:05 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    Senator Dennis Baxley and Representative Allison Tant give a congratulatory fist bump outside the Senate Chambers.

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today applauded the Legislature’s decision to establish a specialty license plate for Florida’s award-winning state parks.

    “Thanks to overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, the Florida State Park specialty license plate is one step away from being a reality”, said Foundation President Gil Ziffer. “It is extremely unusual for an enabling bill like this to go through in just one legislative session but that demonstrates how much support it had in both chambers,” he said. 

    “Our Florida State Parks are a wonderful resource for our citizens to learn, grow and play. Our parks need to be protected and I am excited to get this license plate bill passed and help provide some much-needed funding to preserve these state treasures,” said Senate bill sponsor, Senator Dennis Baxley. 

    House bill sponsor, Representative Allison Tant said, “The “Florida State Parks” specialty license plate will provide funding to address crumbling infrastructure, improve structures, preserve animal and plant habitats, and provide more ADA certified improvements to increase access to the great outdoors”.                          

    “The approval of the specialty state park license plate is huge and will provide significant and ongoing funding to enable us to protect and preserve the nation’s best state park system," said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “Although our state parks are the only four-time National Gold Medal winners for excellence, there is much that needs to be done to ensure they continue to be recognized as world leaders. Funds from a specialty license plate will help us achieve this,” she said.

    “Florida’s state parks play an important role in providing open spaces where people can recreate and exercise in a safe, socially distanced environment. The demand for these open spaces will continue to increase as Florida’s population is expected to top 23 million by 2025 and tourism numbers grow,” she added.  “To meet this growing demand, it is important that state parks continue to provide exceptional value in terms of visitor experience and the range of outdoor pursuits available. It is also important that these pursuits are available to the widest possible audience both in terms of accessibility and diversity." 

    The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature, with anticipation of being signed into law. 

    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.

  • 04/27/2021 2:15 PM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation’s Plant a Pine Campaign has been so successful that it has been extended for another year, Foundation President Gil Ziffer, said today on the eve of Arbor Day 2021.

    Launched on Earth Day in April, 2020, the campaign has just surpassed its twelve-month goal of being able to raise enough money to plant 100,000 longleaf pine seedlings in state parks across Florida. The first round of seedlings were planted at twelve state parks across the state including: Torreya, Ichetucknee Springs, Oscar Scherer, Gold Head Branch and Highlands Hammock State Parks.

    “This campaign has really resonated with the public and so we have extended it for one more year with the goal of planting another 100,000 seedlings by April 2022,” he said. “For every $1 donated, we will plant one longleaf pine seedling in a Florida State Park. People can even dedicate a tree to a loved one. It is a gift that will continue to grow and flourish for many years to come.”

    The longleaf pine is native to the Southeast and once flourished over a range of 90 million acres. Sadly, it is now endangered, covering less than 3 percent of its original range. They have long been prized for their commercial use in building houses, ships, and railroads and their resin used for making turpentine. 

    Mature longleaf ecosystems support more than 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, and indigo snakes. Regular burning to restore their natural rhythms enables longleaf pine to become rich, stable ecosystems. Longleaf pines are fire-adapted and dependent on burning which stabilizes and enriches the soil.

    “The trees are planted in coordination with the Florida Park Service in park areas identified for restoration efforts. Many of these parks were badly affected by hurricane damage over the past three or four years,” said Ziffer.

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 04/19/2021 1:29 PM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation's bid to get a specialty license plate to support Florida’s award-winning state parks cleared its final House and Senate Committee hurdles, with unanimous support, this morning. It goes before the full House and Senate next week.

    “We are delighted that PCS for House Bill 249 and CS/Senate Bill 676 were approved by their respective committees today and now go before the full House and Senate next week,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer. “Both bills have received tremendous bipartisan support and if passed, will provide significant and ongoing funding to enable us to protect and preserve Florida’s state parks." 

    Senate Bill 676 was filed by Republican Senator Dennis Baxley (SD 12), and House Bill 249 was filed by Democratic Representative Allison Tant (HD 9).

    “Florida’s state parks are a treasure that need to be protected for future generations, but this will require significant and ongoing funding. I am delighted to support a specialty Florida State Parks license plate which would provide some of this much needed funding,” said Senator Baxley.

    “Although our state parks are the only four-time National Gold Medal winners for excellence, there is much that needs to be done to ensure they continue to be recognized as world leaders. Funds from a specialty license plate will help us achieve this,” said Representative Tant.

    “As 2020 clearly demonstrated, Florida’s state parks play an important role in providing open spaces where people can recreate and exercise in a safe, socially distanced environment. The demand for these open spaces will continue to increase as Florida’s population is expected to top 23 million by 2025 and tourism numbers grow,” said Ziffer. “To meet this growing demand, it is important that state parks continue to provide exceptional value in terms of visitor experience and the range of outdoor pursuits available. It is also important that these pursuits are available to the widest possible audience both in terms of accessibility and diversity." 

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests. 

  • 04/12/2021 8:00 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)


    A six-mile hiking-mountain biking trail was officially dedicated at Lake Kissimmee State Park on Saturday in memory of Florida State Representative Kristin Jacobs, a Florida State Parks Foundation board member and passionate advocate for the environment. 

    The trail opening, on the anniversary of her death, also included a celebration of her life.


    “We were privileged to have had such a dynamic and energetic board member. She will be greatly missed but this trail is a fitting tribute to ensure her legacy continues”, said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

    “As a Broward County commissioner, mayor and state representative, Kristin Jacobs devoted herself to the preservation of Florida’s natural wonders. She fought for our environment and pushed to ensure public access to Florida’s lands and waters,” he said.

    “Kristin enjoyed Lake Kissimmee State Park as a camper, hiker, and cyclist. Standing here, you are connected to the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem, an irreplaceable resource that she worked to protect for generations to come,” he added.

    “Kristin loved this park – spent many summers with her children there – and loved this trail.  It is perfectly fitting that a trail in her honor sits at the headwaters of the Everglades which she spent so much time fighting for.  On behalf of her family, a big thank you to both the Foundation and the State Park Service for their spirit and generosity in making this happen”, Steve Vancore, Kristin’s significant other.

    For 16 years, Kristin served as Broward County Commissioner and was twice chosen to serve as Mayor.  In 2011, Kristin was selected to serve as Chair of the White House National Ocean Council’s Governance Coordinating Committee, which advised President Obama on local government perspectives on ocean policy.  2013 found Jacobs chosen among a select few to join President Obama at Georgetown University as he unveiled the nation’s first Climate Action Plan, and that same year President Obama appointed her to the Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.  Kristin was twice invited to testify before Congress on the Clean Water Act and Climate Change issues. She joined the Florida State Parks Foundation as a board director in 2018.

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 04/10/2021 10:04 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation recognized the army of state park volunteers during National Volunteer Month, who in the last nine months contributed almost 630,000 hours to help keep the parks open despite the pandemic.

    “During National Volunteer Month, we want to thank the state park volunteers who contributed over 629,000 hours between July 1 and March 30th. Florida’s award-winning state parks wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our volunteers,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

    To honor some of the standout volunteers, the Florida Park Service and Foundation co-hosted a virtual 2020 Volunteer Recognition Award Ceremony, which was held on March 31.

    More than 50 awards were presented honoring volunteers with up to 40 years of service, contributions of up to 25,000 hours of service, and for a wide variety of park projects. The awards are sponsored by the Florida State Parks Foundation.

    “Please know how excited we are to celebrate your service.You all make a huge difference,” Florida State Park Director Eric Draper told participants.

    “This recognition is special. It means that the people you work with took the time to nominate you and that out of the thousands of people who volunteer at Florida State Parks, your service stands out,” he added. 

    “This award is our way of telling everyone who volunteers their time, energy and talent that we are truly grateful. By recognizing you for your special contributions and efforts, others are inspired to follow your lead”, he added.

    There are more than 10,400 volunteers who safely work alongside park staff enhancing visitor experiences and helping with park maintenance and resource management. Park volunteers often bring special skills and knowledge and feel rewarded by helping others.      

    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 10,000 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

    To learn more about Florida State Park volunteer opportunities, please click here.

  • 03/25/2021 8:01 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    More than 90 percent of visitors think that Florida’s award-winning state parks and trails are special places offering great opportunities to explore, relax and connect with nature.

    In a survey of park users conducted by the Florida State Parks Foundation, there was almost unanimous agreement (96%), that state parks provide vast natural spaces to connect with and explore nature and opportunities for exercise.

    They also agreed that state parks offer an environment in which to relax and de-stress and provide a great setting for spending quality time with family and friends.

    “It is not only very encouraging to know that our state parks are so popular with our visitors, whether Floridians or people from out of state, but also why,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

    “In these difficult times, it is also reassuring to realize that so many people recognize our state parks as ideal places to go to relax and unwind,” he said.

    More than 66% of those surveyed said they specifically go to state parks to relax. The most popular park activity was camping (76%), followed by birding, and exploring wildlife (both 37%), picnicking and swimming (both 34%), fishing (33%), canoeing and kayaking (27%), and horseback riding (4%).

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 03/09/2021 8:00 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

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

     “I am delighted to welcome Derek to the board”, said Gil Ziffer, Foundation President. “He 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.”

    “I am a native Floridian and have such fond memories of visiting a number of our state parks like Ichetucknee Springs and Wekiwa Springs,” said Derek. “This opportunity to work with the dedicated team of Foundation employees and volunteers gives me a way to help ensure future generations can enjoy these treasures that were so important for me.”

    Derek Bruce is the Managing Shareholder of the Orlando Office of the Gunster law firm.  With over twenty years’ experience in the practice of law, Derek primarily represents clients before state and local governments throughout the state of Florida on land use, procurement and administrative or regulatory issues. No stranger to community involvement, Derek previously served on the Orange County Board of Zoning Adjustment; Orange County Planning and Zoning Commission; Chairman of the Orange County Redistricting Advisory Committee; and as a member of Gov. Rick Scott’s Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection. 

    He has also served on the boards of numerous statewide and local community organizations, including Leadership Florida; Central Florida Foundation; African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida; and the Randy Roberts Foundation. Derek also had the privilege of serving as President of the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida and Chair of Business Force, an independent, nonpartisan organization composed of business and community leaders across Central Florida

    Derek is a graduate of the University of Florida and currently sits on the University of Florida’s Law Center Association. 

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 02/25/2021 11:49 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)


    ST. AUGUSTINE, FL - In celebration of Black History Month, Fort Mose Historic State Park has partnered with Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) and The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida to launch a self-guided educational tour experience along the Flight to Freedom Trail, bringing to life the rich history of the park year-round.

    The initiative was announced today at Fort Mose by Gil Ziffer, President of the Florida State Parks Foundation. “It is very fitting that this new self-guided tour in this historic park is being announced during Black History Month,” he said. “The Foundation is proud to be a part of this important initiative – bringing to life the story of Fort Mose.”

    “We thank Florida Power and Light and The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida who are proud supporters of the Flight to Freedom trail initiative and the significance it will have for generations to come,” he added.

    “We are delighted to invest in making the Flight to Freedom Trail even more compelling with these enhancements,” noted Nina Waters, president, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. “By building on the work already done by Fort Mose’s leadership and volunteers, we can further educate our community about the rich history of African American individuals in St. Augustine.”

    “We’re passionate about making a positive impact in the communities we serve and supporting the initiatives our diverse communities care about the most – and this historic park is a shining example of that,” said Jim Bush, area external affairs manager at FPL. “Innovation is at the cornerstone of our company, so it was a perfect fit to provide QR technology to help bring the park’s rich history to life in a self-guided experience.”

    Fort Mose Historic State Park is the site of the first free black community in what is now the United States and can date its roots back to 1687. It is a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO Slave Route Project and is on the National Register for Historic Places and the Florida African American History Trail.

    “Fort Mose is an incredible example of the history that lives in Florida’s state parks,” said Shawn Hamilton, DEP Deputy Secretary for Land and Recreation. “More than 300 years ago, Fort Mose served as a beacon of hope for enslaved people in what would become the United States. We’re excited and honored to have a new tour experience that will help visitors make meaningful connections with the people who traveled to, settled and lived there.”

    Fort Mose hosts an annual three-day Flight to Freedom event for over 2,000 students and the public, where reenactors set up stations along the trail. They tell the story of what it was like for the escaped slaves to make the treacherous journey from the Carolinasto this free settlement. New, interactive educational signage along the ¾-mile trail will allow this reenactment and history to be experienced all year long. The signs will include QR codes for visitors to scan, launching videos of the reenactors telling their story.

    'We launched the Flight to Freedom reenactment in 2009,” said Charles Ellis, President of Fort Mose Historical Society. “Since that time, thousands of park visitors of all ages have stepped onto the Trail, encountering freedom seekers, slave catchers, a Yamasee chief, and helpful friars and guides. Now, thanks to this generous donation, we will be able to offer this unique 'living history' experience to park visitors at all times.”

    The Florida State Parks 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 02/11/2021 8:37 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation has announced a $200,000 grant for the Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park. The garden, ‘a park within a park’, will be the only one of its kind in the United States. 

    “We are delighted to support this innovative project that will expand access and enhance the park experience for visitors with diverse abilities and special needs,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

    The grant has been awarded to the Wekiva Wilderness Trust, the nonprofit, volunteer group that supports the work of Wekiwa Springs State Park. The Trust has worked with a team of international experts for more than two years to finalize the design of the 1.5-acre site. Although additional funding is still needed, work is expected to start on the garden by early summer.

    The Serenity Garden will create accessible experiences and enrichment activities for vulnerable populations and groups such as fragile seniors, the visually impaired, people in wheelchairs, veterans with PTSD, people with autism, those with chronic conditions, and their families and caregivers. Visitors will be able to see, touch, smell and hear nature and interact with it in a safe environment. It is hoped that it will become the model for other parks and public spaces both in the U.S. and overseas.

    “The Serenity Garden is a unique project that aims to serve as a sanctuary for a largely underserved population throughout Central Florida,” said project leader Don Philpott. “Hopefully, it will be the first of many to be created around the country and overseas,” he added.

    The Florida State Parks 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

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