03/25/2014 12:42 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

Each year a committee of the Friends of Florida State Parks calls for nominations for outstanding volunteers and activities from Park managers throughout the state. This year we received 95 nominations and there were so many outstanding people and activities going on in our parks that the Nominations Committee had considerable difficulty making their final choices.

Outstanding CSO of the Year  Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park, Inc. supporting Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring.  Although this is a small group, they are able to accomplish big things. They sponsored a series of 6 concerts, and a Turkey Trot Run during 2013 plus firewood sales and tram rides. These fundraising activities have allowed the Friends to purchase 2 Kubotas (vehicles), a 6 passenger Polaris, equipment such as chain saws, weed eaters, brush cutters and fuel for staff use.  They were also able to share the cost of a necessary paving project with the county. Not only is the CSO a real friend to the staff, but they have a working relationship with many community organizations, and were able to provide lunch for people working on a scrub jay restoration project in the park. This is an organization we can all be proud of.

Outstanding Male Volunteer   Darrel Smith-Highlands Hammock State Park.

Darrel Smith has served over 1457 hours in 2013. He is involved in all aspects of the park and contributes positively through education, interpretation, maintenance, research and serving on the Board and as an officer, the treasurer, for the Friends of Highlands Hammock. He is a vital link in connecting the park to the community of Sebring. He is curator of the CCC Museum, conducts a one-man living history program for the park and other organizations, and conducts park tram tours. He has also researched the young men who worked for the CCC and has created oral histories. He has worked with the Division of Historical Resources and the University of Florida in conducting his research. Darrel’s vision is to construct a CCC Village, and that has now become a goal in the park management plan.  Darrel’s wife, Candy, his daughter Vicki and son-in-law, Mike Jarvis, also volunteer.

Outstanding Female Volunteer  Dolores (Doe) Schuster – Henderson Beach State Park.

Doe is a friend and avid supporter of the Florida Park Service. Since becoming a volunteer she has volunteered over 3500 hours, adding over 1300 this year. For the past 6 years she has been the creative core of the Henderson Beach, Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Parks interpretive and volunteer program. She has assisted the staff with the development and presentation of interpretive and Community Outreach programs. She is best known for her positive supportive attitude and her dedication to the parks. She works closely with community organizations, has developed a series of interpretive programs, and works with the Junior Lifeguard Program. In addition to these, Doe also participates in routine maintenance. She is always looking for new ways to spread the information she has, and promote the parks.

Outstanding Male Youth Volunteer  Frank Ward-Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Although Frank has only been volunteering since August, he has made a great impression on the Rangers because of his work performance, level of maturity, self-motivation and other positive characteristics. He began as a Park Host and quickly advanced to work in the Wildlife Department, where he assists with closing procedures, and cleaning and maintenance of the wildlife exhibits. He has an interest and knowledge of exotic plant removal, and is always enthusiastic about helping with anything, including recently forming a community Dragon Boat Team. He has a deep interest in Florida’s flora and fauna. At 17, Frank is an intern at the Coastal and Aquatic Management Area assisting with spring data, water testing and the coastal oyster restoration project. Frank volunteers after school and for special events. For his future, Frank is interested in biology, ecology, and medicine.
Outstanding Female Youth Volunteer  Erica Shewbart-Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Erica volunteers as a Park Host, a summer camp counselor, and part of the Outreach Team. She has a gift for working with children younger than she and provides a great role model for them. She is professional in her dealings with all park visitors. She is a pro at handing the animals as well as secure in dealing with people. She follows all the safety rules. She is self-motivated and mature, in addition to other positive attributes. Her goal is to be a veterinarian in a facility such as Homosassa. In addition to volunteering at the state park, she also has volunteered at a local horse farm offering assistance with abused and rescued horses since she was 10 years old. She also participates in the nursery program at her church, taking care of infants who have been left there. Erica is 14 years old and has been volunteering at Homosassa for a year, after school and weekends. She has truly become a youth ambassador for the park.

Outstanding Special Event   Battle of Bloody Mose-Fort Mose Historic State Park

This battle is the only side vs. side battle reenactment in St. John’s County despite the county’s historical significance. It depicts what happened as a result of enslaved people coming to Spanish Florida to be free. The War of Jenkins’s Ear was between the Spanish and the British for political reasons, that the Spanish providing this sanctuary to persons the British claimed they owned. The Battle of Bloody Mose was a significant battle in this war.

Although this battle takes place on one day, June 22, in 2013, it is a yearlong project. Next year the Battle will take place for 2 days.

The event would cost over $5000 to present, but all day trolley services were donated by Old Town Trolley and hay bales were donated by Mr. Mow It All, reducing expenses by $2600. The CSO provides the rest.

This event sheds a positive, new light on the site, providing visitors with a family friendly event while learning an important part of the state’s and county’s history. Many return to learn more about the history and appreciate the beauty of present day Fort Mose.

Park staff and 112 volunteers work this event for a total of 962 volunteer hours. The PSS is the main staff member who works on the planning stage of the event and Richard Shortlidge has been the main driving CSO member behind it.

Outstanding Team  Education Team-John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

The Education Team consists of 23 people who have contributed 1,889 hours of combined volunteers hours dedicated to natural science education for the public, private, and charter schools of the area. In 2011 with the completion of the Pew Family Natural Science Education Center, the Friends used grant money to employ a Director of Education, Janice Kerber.  She updated and wrote the natural science education curriculum to meet the the New Generation Science Standards established by the state of Florida. The 10 programs were approved by Palm Beach County School District, qualifying the park for free a free bus provided by the District to transport children to the facility for a field experience. During 2011-12 she trained volunteers and staff, and in 2012-13, the dedicated team was facilitating programs every Tuesday through Friday for approximately 45 students each day. By the end of the year, this team has served 4,600 students. For 2012-13, the numbers are larger. This team has had an overwhelming impact on both the community and the park. This team costs approximately $72,000 per school year, earned through the fundraising efforts of the Friends and the park building budget.

Outstanding Long Term Project  Springs Interpretive Trail-Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park

The goal of this trail was to provide a virtual cave superimposed over the cave system.  This was a three year/three phase project costing over $17,000. It was completed in August with the installation of an historical/cultural kiosk. Although conceived in 2005 with Peacock Springs CSO committee members Janet Stape, Michael Poucher, and Kelly Jessop, it was placed on hold until the CSO became the North Florida Springs Alliance in 2007, when it became the primary goal of the NFSA. The kiosk received partial funding from the Friends of Florida State Parks as well as some corporate funding. The first eight kiosks were funded by corporate sponsors and local businesses. The 20 plant ID sponsors were primarily individuals. After the installation of the trail, any visitor can experience and appreciate the complexity and beauty of the cave system beneath their feet as well as the ecosystem around them. Team members included Janet Stape, Michael Poucher, Kelly Jessop, Jim Womble, Kevin Jones, Chris Jones, Jim Wyatt, Tom McMillan, Ken Charlesworth, Rick Crawfold, Beth Murphy, Jill Heinerth, Dr. Mike Stine, Steve Boyer, and countless other NFSA members,and staff members Craig, Liney, Myra Carter and Richard West.

Short Term Project  ADA Kayak/Canoe Launch-Oscar Scherer State Park

This project began in February and was finished by October 2013. Its overall cost  was $24,000, $5000 of which the Friends paid. Installation took over 200 hours of time from the Friends, volunteer staff and the dock manufacturer. This dock continues to help this park provide access for all. Since its installation they have been able to take out 30 individuals with varying kinds of mental and physical disabilities who would never have access to this experience without this dock. They have worked with Special Olympians, the elderly and are starting a Wounded Warrior project to get our disabled veterans out into the park.

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