• 03/16/2018 3:15 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    It is difficult to find a location in Florida that is removed from urban and suburban light pollution but, thankfully, great star gazing is still possible in two of Florida’s state parks.

    In 2016, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park was recognized as Florida's first Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.

    At this park, located just above Lake Okeechobee. star gazers have the chance to see stars, planets, and other celestial bodies in incomprehensible numbers and unforgettable brilliance.  Jupiter and Saturn are both clearly visible in the night sky. You may be able to witness the International Space Station making its orbit around Earth and rocket launches from the space centers on the east coast are also viewable. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park offers the best viewing of the night sky in the region and has the credentials to prove it!

    Located in Florida’s Panhandle, Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park is proud to say it has now also received the dark sky designation and invites everyone to come and enjoy the wonderful star gazing opportunities with the darkest skies for miles around.  The Gulf of Mexico provides 180 degrees of no light pollution and the closest metropolitan areas are over 70 miles away.  These conditions allow star gazers to see the Milky Way and some of the fainter constellations.

    For star gazing information visit the park’s websites and look for  in the activities section.

    Great star gazing – another reason to be grateful for our Florida State Parks!

  • 03/16/2018 11:00 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    LAKELAND, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Florida Park Service joined local officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for new campground facilities at Colt Creek State Park.

    The new facilities include 28 campsites and one bathhouse. The camping facilities include three accessible RV sites, four tent sites and two additional tent sites with mobility features.

    "This project serves as a great example of the power of partnerships and working with our local communities," said Noah Valenstein, DEP Secretary. "As we go for a record fourth gold medal for our parks system, it's incredible to see the support from the Friends of Colt Creek State Park, our volunteers and our many other partners."

    "Colt Creek State Park is an absolute jewel here in Central Florida," said Eric Draper, Florida Park Service Director. "A big thank you to our park staff and the community for making this dream a reality now that thousands of visitors will be able to enjoy this park each year."

    "The Friends of Colt Creek State Park are excited to help make this campground available to the community," said Paula Dockery, president of the Friends of Colt Creek State Park. "As we open this beautiful campground, it's great to see so much enthusiasm for the park with our partners today."

    "Besides hiking and fishing and all of the other available activities at Colt Creek State Park, the serene atmosphere invites you to relax and enjoy this beautiful Florida old heritage scenery," said Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel. "By adding camping to the options of activities, people will be able to come and stay for a while. This will open up whole new possibilities for visitors in and out of our area to enjoy Polk County."

    “Florida State Parks protect some of Florida’s most amazing natural resources and offer countless recreation opportunities for Floridians and visitors,” said Florida Rep. Ben Albritton. “I want to congratulate DEP’s Florida Park Service and the Friends of Colt Creek State Park for completing this important project. I was proud to to support Governor Rick Scott’s recommendation to increase funding for projects that will further enhance our state park system and look forward to celebrating more projects like this one.”

    Colt Creek State Park encompasses 5,067 acres and offers more than 15 miles of beautiful, multi-use trails which provide hiking, biking and equestrian opportunities. These trails meander through the pine flatwoods around cypress domes, bottomland forest and vast open pastures. Three tributaries flow through the park including Little Gator Creek, Gator Creek and the park's namesake Colt Creek.
  • 03/15/2018 3:09 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP) launched its largest ever legislative effort this year in support of environmental funding and we can all be very proud of the results.

    With the full backing of the Florida Park Service and leadership of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, FFSP visited legislators in Tallahassee, took part in legislative educational events in the capital and produced a number of documents setting out the arguments for supporting the DEP’s 2018 budget request and other environmental needs.

    Statewide senate and representative district maps were produced and President Paula Russo wrote personally to every sitting legislator explaining the economic impact of all the parks in their respective districts. She also pointed out that the system of Florida State Parks & Trails is one of the state’s greatest success stories. 

    The legislators were informed that Florida State Parks contribute mightily to the state’s tourism industry and preserve many of the jewels of our natural environments – a $3 billion direct economic impact, $205 million in sales tax revenue, and supports over 48,600 jobs and attracts more than 32 million visitors a year.

    While most of us know this, it was important to get this message across to the politicians which is why FFSP also encouraged individual park’s Citizen Support Organizations to support this effort by writing to their legislators and decision makers in Tallahassee – and, thankfully, many of you did.  As a result, some notable achievement has been secured.

    The 2018-19 budget earmarked $100 million for Florida Forever, Florida’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program and a blueprint for conserving natural resources and renewing Florida’s commitment to conserve the state’s natural and cultural heritage. Since the inception of the Florida Forever program in July 2001, the state has purchased more than 751,513 acres of land with a little over $2.98 billion.  Some of these purchases have become state parks

    Florida Forever, however, has not been funded for some years, and this year’s funding is in large part due to the insistence of Senator Rob Bradley. From the outset of budget talks he was determined to secure $100 million even though the House initially countered this with an offer of only $8 million. Luckily Senator Bradley prevailed and Florida’s environment will benefit greatly as a result.

    The Florida Park Service gets almost all the $50 million it requested for its 2018/19 budget and millions more has been made available for other environmental projects. About $175 million has been earmarked for Everglades’ restoration and $50 million for the much needed rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover dam on Lake Okeechobee.

    So, we can all give ourselves a big pat on the back. For another year at least, Florida’s state parks get the funding they need and the additional monies allow for more conservation and environmental protection. That is a situation that benefits all of us who live in Florida and the millions who visit to enjoy our parks and natural beauty.

  • 02/16/2018 4:37 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    (Audrine Finnerty and Don Philpott braving

    the cold to promote Florida State Parks)

    On January 17, FFSP took part in Visit Florida’s Tourism Day in Tallahassee and, despite the frigid temperatures, hosted a booth at the traditional street party that night attended by the Governor and many members of the legislature. It was a great opportunity to meet them and extol the benefits of our award-winning park system.
  • 02/16/2018 4:21 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    "Parks cannot run without volunteers.”  I’ve heard this repeated so many times by park managers, volunteer coordinators and rangers.  The new leadership at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection(FDEP) and the Division or Recreation and Parks take this statement to heart and are looking at how to improve support for volunteers as we refocus on the mission of the Florida Park Service.

    Organizations such as Friends of Florida State Parks and the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, led by volunteer boards, contribute considerable wisdom, wealth and work to support our mission, and operate programs.  Again, Florida Department of Environmental Protection leadership intends to strengthen partnerships with supporting organizations.

    I have been very impressed by the efforts of Friends of Florida State Parks and other park partners.  Paula Russo and Don Philpott are always just a phone call away, and I always appreciate seeing and hearing from them. They have really gone to bat for state parks by communicating with legislators about our budget and even coming to Tallahassee to participate in special events.  

    Paula joined FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein to cut the ribbon at the reopening of the Gilchrist Blue Springs campground – our newest and 175th state park.  She spoke eloquently of the need for volunteers and a support organization for the new park.  As more people discover the campground and beautiful springs, volunteers will be especially important to help stretch staff from other parks to manage the new 400 acres and camping and swimming areas.  We hope and expect the local community will step up to raise money to help with improvements.

    That is how people and partner organizations make the Florida Park Service successful. Yes, we have 1000 great staff, but it bears repeating, “Parks cannot run without volunteers.”  I look forward to reporting to Friends of Florida State Parks on how our new leadership steps up to the challenge of working with you as you help us focus the parks mission.    

    Eric Draper started as Director of the Florida Park Service last December. Previously he was President of Florida Audubon Society.

  • 02/15/2018 4:32 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Well, actually, in a way it does.  Last year over 32 million people visited Florida State Parks adding $3 billion in direct economic impact to the state’s economy.

    Over the last few weeks, FFSP board members have been to Tallahassee visiting the offices of influential legislators and every senator and representative has been sent a letter pointing out the enormous economic benefit state parks have in their respective districts.

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s top leadership, Secretary Noah Valenstein and Deputy Secretary David Clark, have made several appearances before House and Senate committees.  And, our new Florida Park Service Director, Eric Draper, has worked closely with Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP) leadership to coordinate a significant grass roots campaign.

    It is still too early to say whether the legislature will approve the Florida’s state parks 2018 budget request but, at the time of this writing, things are looking positive thanks to a major cooperative effort by key players.

    Florida’s state parks are one of the state's greatest success stories and continue to be a sound investment.  They contribute mightily to the state’s tourism industry and preserve many of the jewels of our natural environments.  Of course, we all know this, we just need to make sure everyone else does too – and, right now, especially the policy and decision makers.

    So, as we enter the final weeks of this year’s legislative session, we will continue to watch the situation carefully and take appropriate action when we think it necessary.

    The one thing that we all know is that we love our parks with a passion and that they are worth fighting for.

    If you would like to tell your legislators how important Florida State Parks are to you personally, click here.

  • 11/27/2017 12:26 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    One of the best ways we can preserve our fabulous award-winning state parks it to teach our children how wonderful they are and why they need to be protected for their children’s children. That is why Friends of Florida State Parks was proud to take over the LIFE program (Learning in Florida’s Environment) from the Department of Environmental Protection in 2015 and become its statewide administrator.

    LIFE serves many purposes. First of all, it is a model for science-based education on public conservation lands. Each program represents a partnership between Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and a school district to bring students outdoors to learn science.

    The goal of each LIFE Program is increased student achievement and teacher professional development in science education. The LIFE program is not a curriculum, but a process for reinforcing and enriching the existing curriculum through hands-on, field labs facilitated by educators, scientists, rangers and trained volunteers.

    Each LIFE site is tailored to address local priorities and unique environmental issues. This is done in consultation with the school board and science teachers from the participating schools. Students participate in multiple field experiences each year and are exposed to real-world technology careers.

    Another benefit is that most of the students have never been to a state park before and, hopefully, they will persuade their parents to come out and visit as well. We have to engage these young people and help them understand the importance of protecting and preserving our public lands. After all, they will be the next custodians of these precious places.

    They spend a day doing approved science experiments using the parks as open area science labs. More important, they have fun and want to come back.

    For the last year, we have vigorously promoted the LIFE program and we are delighted to report that it is really catching on. We now have over 30 parks offering the program or pledged to start it in the next few months. Our aim is to have 50 participating parks by 2020 which would mean at least 50,000 schoolchildren visiting the parks every year and perhaps very many more. It costs between $3,000 and $5,000 to supply each park with the scientific equipment it needs – depending on the labs offered. Once the park has acquired the equipment multiple schools can take advantage of it.

    Developing the program and providing the resources to administer and manage it takes considerable time, money and expertise – but it is a program that will reap huge dividends by providing a different, more experiential learning experience to thousands of children who will, hopefully, become the guardians of our parks in the years ahead.

    You can support the LIFE program with a donation here.  Want to volunteer with the LIFE program?  Check with the state parks in your area to see if they already are offering LIFE and if not, you may be able to get it going.  Call 813-586-0681 or write to for information.

  • 11/27/2017 12:08 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    For the past several years, the 4th grade class at Ft. Braden in cooperation with the park rangers at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park and Lake Talquin State Park (Tallahassee area), has incorporated the Florida State Parks’ Junior Ranger Program into its curriculum. 

    The Florida State Parks Junior Ranger Program provides the opportunity for young people to learn, share and serve Florida’s natural and cultural resources.  As part of the Junior Ranger Program, field trips to each of these state parks are arranged to provide the students first hand experiences to better understand how important our natural environment is and to know of Florida’s deep history and past cultures.  By becoming a Junior Ranger, these young people learn how they can help the state park rangers preserve our state park’s natural and cultural resources so that you and other visitors can enjoy them for many years to come. 

    Each student completes 6 core activities.  Upon completion, the class reviews their work with a park ranger, recites the Junior Ranger Pledge and receives a certificate of completion and official Junior Ranger ID card.  The students are eligible to complete additional activities to earn Junior Ranger pins, badges and patches.

    With generous funding from the Friends of Florida State Parks program “Yellow Buses in the Parks Project”, students at Ft. Braden were able to have the field trip transportation costs fully funded.  Without this financial help the programs and field trips would not have been possible.

    To the Friends of Florida State Parks, the students and teachers at Ft. Braden thank you for your support and we look forward to the continued partnership with the Friends of Florida State Parks.

    Julie Baisden
    4th Grade Fort Braden School
    Language Arts

    *Note from FFSP President, Paula Russo:  It’s a team effort that requires caring teachers like Julie Baisden, dedicated park rangers, and the generous people who financially support our programs that get kids into our state parks to learn.  Become part of “the team”!  Make a donation here and designate Yellow Buses.

  • 09/18/2017 1:13 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Monster Hurricane Irma has impacted nearly every state park in the system.  All Florida Park Service personnel and their cadre of experienced trained volunteers are working hard to assess the extent of the damage.  Severe flooding, downed trees, debris, board walks and beach access washed away, and worse. 

    This hurricane was different from any before.  The entire state was affected not just one area.  Parks have suffered greatly from this and it’s going to take a coordinated focused effort and lots of help to get things cleaned up and safe again.

    Of great concern is the interruption of multitudes of children’s education programs.  Every year many thousands of children come to the parks for environmental and historical education programs.  School field trips, Jr. Rangers, interpretive hikes, camp fire programs and so much more are at a dead stand still and will be until our parks reopen and are safe to visit again. 

    100% of all donations large and small will go directly to recovery.  Please help if you can. Donate here.

    Thank you!


    Information Sources:

    Ongoing Updates on which Parks are Open/Closed

    The official Florida State Parks website

    Florida State Parks Facebook page


  • 08/10/2017 9:23 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    As interest in our science education program, LIFE, continues to grow Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP) is organizing a series of one-day LIFE training workshops this fall.

    LIFE, which stands for Learning in Florida’s Environment, is a statewide program administered by FFSP, which encourages local schools to use state parks and other public places as open air science labs. Currently there are 33 state parks and other public places offering the LIFE program or actively working towards doing so.

    LIFE offers middle school science teachers more than 100 tried and tested labs to choose from – all approved by the Florida Department of Education and all part of the school science curriculum.

    Developing the program and providing the resources to administer and manage it takes considerable time, money and expertise – but it is a program that will reap huge dividends by providing a different, more experiential learning experience to thousands of children who will, hopefully, become the guardians of our parks in the years ahead.

    Our aim is to have at least 50 participating parks by 2020 which would mean at least 50,000 schoolchildren visiting the parks every year and perhaps very many more. It costs between $2,000 and $4,000 to supply each park with the scientific equipment it needs for their participating schools to use but once the equipment has been acquired the parks can host multiple schools during the year.

    LIFE teams are also working on adapting the labs so that they can be used by high school and elementary schools as well.

    The aim of the workshops is to connect park staff, volunteers and educators experienced in running the LIFE program with parks staff and volunteers wanting to learn more about it so that they can introduce it into their own parks. Educators wishing to be involved with the program are also invited to attend.

    The workshop schedule is as follows:

    • Sept 16. District 2. Ichetucknee Springs.
    • Sept 23. District 1. Wakulla Springs.
    • Oct 7. District 4. Myakka River STOP Camp.
    • Oct 21.  District 3. Wekiwa Springs.

    The District 5 workshop will be held at Savannas State Preserve at a date to be announced.

    If you are interested in attending one of the free workshops, please email me at

    Don Philpott. FFSP Executive Director

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