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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!


  • 05/20/2019 10:36 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The 2019 Florida legislative session is now officially over and so it is a good time to reflect on what happened and what happens next.

    The big takeaway is that the Legislature awarded the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) record funding and supported all of Governor DeSantis’s initiatives to do more for Florida’s environment.

    “I am pleased the Florida Legislature recognizes the importance of funding projects to accelerate Everglades restoration, continue the momentum of the C-43 and EAA reservoirs, improve water quality, enhance water supplies, protect the state’s natural lands and waterways, and restore our beaches,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.

    More than $400 million has been earmarked for Everglades restoration and there is major funding for targeted water quality improvements, alternative water supply, and to combat harmful algal blooms. An additional $33 million is allocated to Florida Forever for land purchases and land management and there are more dollars to help Florida state parks impacted by Hurricane Michael.

    The Governor has called for $2.5 billion to be invested over the next four years to protect and restore Florida’s Everglades and water resources – this is $1 billion more than has been invested in the previous four years.

    While the Legislature agreed on $35 million funding for the Florida Park Service, less than the $54 million requested by the Governor and DEP, it is still more than double the $15 million originally offered by the Senate.

    “I think we can all share the credit for this last-minute increase in state park funding. The Florida State Parks Foundation, supported by its members and local state park Friends’ groups, has spent the last few weeks talking to legislators and explaining why our state parks are so important, both environmentally and economically,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “As a result, the Senate more than doubled the budget it had allocated to the Florida Park Service and many senators and representatives are now better informed about our award-winning state parks,” she said.

    “The lesson we have learned is that this advocacy effort needs to be ongoing, not just when the Legislature is sitting. We plan to meet with as many legislators as possible over the next several months ahead of next year’s session, and we urge you to support this effort.”

    “Let your legislators know how essential our state parks are. Local Friends’ group can invite their local legislators to visit their parks. Use the economic impact sheets that are available on our website to educate them and local business organizations about how important the parks are both locally and statewide.”

    The economic data could not be more compelling. Last year, despite the impact of Hurricane Michael, state parks and trails served more than 28 million visitors generating $2.4 billion in direct economic impact to local communities statewide and supporting more than 33,000 jobs as a result of state park operations. In addition, over $158 million was raised in the form of state sales tax.

    “We have a great story to tell and we will continue to tell it across our state. The more our legislators know about the parks, the greater our chances for another record funding in next year’s budget cycle.” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

  • 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.

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