• 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.

  • 03/25/2014 10:34 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Beach-nesting shorebirds need peace and quiet to survive
    During spring and summer on Florida beaches, shorebirds build nests out of sand and shells and hatch chicks that can barely be seen. So well-camouflaged are the nests, eggs and chicks of shorebirds like the snowy plover that they can easily be stepped on or missed unless people know to watch out for them.
    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding beachgoers to be on the lookout and avoid disturbing bird nurseries on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida. Among the state’s beach-nesting shorebirds facing conservation challenges are the snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and Wilson’s plover.
    People at the beach, including those paddling canoes, kayaks and boards along the shore, can help beach-nesting shorebirds by following basic guidelines:
    Keep your distance. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are giving signals you need to back off.
    Never intentionally force birds to fly or run. They use up energy they need for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat and to predators.
    Respect posted areas. Avoid posted nesting sites and use designated walkways when possible.
    It’s best not to take pets to the beach, but if you do, keep them on a leash.
    Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons and crows. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
    Spread the word. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, gently let them know how their actions may hurt the birds’ survival. If they continue to disturb nesting birds, report their activities to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone or by texting You also can report nests that are not posted to Wildlife Alert.
    Wildlife photographers also should follow the rules that protect beach-nesting shorebirds:

    Remain behind the posted area, with no part of you or your camera equipment extending beyond the string or signs.
    Don’t exceed 10 minutes. Too much time photographing near the nest may stress the birds.
    Don’t “push” birds around the beach. Stay far enough away so the birds do not change their behavior in response to your presence. They need to feed and rest without disturbance.
    For more information, go to and download the “Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds” brochure. Or go to the Florida Shorebird Alliance at

  • 03/24/2014 9:16 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    If you haven’t visited Colt Creek State Park north of Lakeland, Saturday 29 may be a good time to start.
    A fledgling group called Friends of Colt Creek State Park has organized a series of events next weekend to highlight the park’s beauty and recreation potential.
    The events will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
  • 03/19/2014 10:15 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    The Fort Mose Historical Society received an Outstanding Special Event of the Year award on March 8 for its 5th annual re-enactment of the Battle of Bloody Mose.

    A citizen support organization for Fort Mose Historic State Park, the historical society received the award from its umbrella organization, Friends of Florida State Parks. The award was announced at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Day hosted by the Florida Park Service to recognize park volunteers.

    “Wow! I can’t believe it,” said Charles Ellis, president of the Fort Mose Historical Society. “What an honor to have among all the state parks and their respective events.”

    There are 171 state parks and trails with numerous events throughout the year competing for the award.

    Ellis said the effort was not made in a single bubble, but was, in fact, a huge endeavor from several organizations, community partners and volunteers. He recognized two major groups that helped make the Battle of Bloody Mose event possible undefined Florida Living History Inc. for making it humanly possible to organize and the Florida Humanities Council for making it financially possible.

    The Battle of Bloody Mose re-enactment is held each year in June and commemorates a 1740 battle in which Spanish soldiers, black militia and native Yamassee auxiliaries fought off advances by English and Scottish troops from Georgia.

    The Battle of Bloody Mose began in 2010 by Florida Living History with support from the Saint Johns County Tourist Development Council. In 2014, the event will be extended to two days in order to accommodate two full battle re-enactments on June 21 and 22.

  • 03/11/2014 1:13 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Senator Jeremy Ring of the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee in the Florida Senate is sponsoring a bill impacting all Friends groups in the Florida state park system. A portion of the bill addresses reporting and accountability. If passed, this will tighten reporting timelines for all Friends and Alliances groups. If the fiscal year does not mirror the state's (July-June), we will be required to change it. For revenues of $100,000 and over in any given year, an external audit will be required. There is also a change to the statute authorizing the formation of support groups. This statute will be repealed in 5 years if not renewed by the legislature. If it is renewed, it will still be subject to repeal every 5 years unless renewed each time. There is a corresponding bill in the House at this time. 

    We all can and should let our legislators know how this bill will affect our state parks and our Friends groups. You can read the bill here:

  • 02/20/2014 5:10 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    SEBRING  Local resident Darrel Smith has picked up top honors from the Florida State Park Service, being awarded Volunteer of the Year for 2014. Smith was cited for his work as Museum curator at Highlands Hammock State Park.
  • 01/25/2014 9:36 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Editorial: Park grants would pay dividends

    Florida should take greater advantage of the volunteers and private partners supporting its park system. It can start by restoring a modest grant program to improve park facilities.

    The Legislature has not given any money to the state program known as the Partnership in Parks for the past several years. The neglect is troublesome considering the park system's substantial return on investment. State numbers indicate the park system had a direct economic impact of nearly $1.2 billion on local economies and produced nearly $78 million in sales tax money in 2012-13.

    The nonprofit Friends of Florida State Parks Inc. proposes to take responsibility for the state grants and is asking lawmakers for $1.5 million in the 2014-15 state budget to restart the program. The benefits of the program can be seen at Honeymoon Island State Park. About $560,000 in state and private dollars transformed a former bathhouse into the Rotary Centennial Nature Center in 2007.

    Gov. Rick Scott lauded the intent of the program but vetoed $750,000 for it in 2013 amid concerns about administrative costs. In response, the plan this year is to cap overhead expenses at 5 percent. Encouraging private investment in state parks for boardwalks, trails, nature centers and to make the facilities more readily accessible for the disabled is a worthwhile goal that shouldn't be overlooked again this year.

    Editorial: Park grants would pay dividends 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 1:32pm]

  • 01/17/2014 7:12 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    ~Winning photo taken at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys~

    Florida State Parks and Friends of Florida State Parks 2013 Photo Contest Winners: (top) Back to the Island by Gary Oliver

    (left) 2nd Place - Caspian Terns by Priscilla McDaniel

    (right) A Guest While Eating My Lunch by Priscilla McDaniel

    “Each year, we receive hundreds of amazing photos taken at Florida’s state parks and state trails. Each one inspires us to visit our state parks to enjoy our incredible natural and cultural resources,” said Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione. “Congratulations to the winners and all who entered the contest. I look forward to seeing all the beautiful photos we receive in 2014.”

    Annual photo contest winners are selected from the 12 monthly photo contest winners throughout 2013 selected by visitors to The photographs were evaluated by professional photographers John Moran, Lyn Berreitter and Kevin Kolczynski to determine the top three winners. A Florida State Parks Family Annual Entrance Pass will be presented to Gary Oliver for shooting the winning photo. Priscilla McDaniel will receive a Florida State Parks Individual Annual Entrance Pass.

    The Florida State Parks and State Trails Photo Contest allows visitors to share their experiences at state parks and on state trails. Register and submit your favorite photos for a chance to win entrance passes to visit Florida’s state parks. Visit the Photo Contest website for rules and details.

  • 10/10/2013 11:36 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    There is cause for celebration for all Florida State Park staff,
    visitors and Friends groups! The Gold Medal Award for
    Excellence in the management of state park systems was
    recently celebrated at Lake Louisa State Park where park
    officials gathered in recognition of this unprecedented honor.
    Florida is the only park system in the USA to claim title to three
    Gold Medal awards.
    “The fact that the Florida Park Service has won this prestigious
    national award three times, while no other state has ever
    won twice shows the dedication of our employees and volunteers to manage the resources that provide vast opportunities for Floridians and visitors to enjoy our natural resources,” said Florida DEP Secretary Herschel
    Vinyard. Secretary Vinyard, Representative Bryan Nelson and Florida Parks Director Donald Forgione were on hand for the gathering where a large group was assembled for the recognition event.
    Since 1935, Florida’s Park Service has been working to provide recreational activities for the community, while preserving, protecting, interpreting and restoring natural resources in the state.
  • 03/31/2013 3:16 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
                                                                                                                                Jamie began volunteering as a
    Park Host, assisting visitors and
    answering their questions. She also
    helps with the interpretive carts
    in the park. She is often asked to
    be a mentor to other high school
    volunteers. She has participated
    in a bird survey at Egmont Key
    State Park and worked for Fish
    and Wildlife assisting in building
    boardwalks and performing surveys
    at Three Sisters Park. At 16 years
    old, Jamie is a fine ambassador for
    her park.
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