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  • 01/31/2020 2:20 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today urged legislators to fully fund Governor DeSantis’ 2020-21 budget request for Florida’s award-winning state parks.

    “It is critical that the Florida Park Service receives adequate funding to ensure that our state parks continue to be the best that they can be,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “When you compare the $54 million that has been requested with the $2.6 billion in economic impact that the state parks generated last year, it is hard to think of a better return on the investment,” she said.

    Governor DeSantis’ FY20 budget included $54 million for fixed capital and land management and an additional $100 million for Florida Forever.

    Currently, both the Senate and House have indicated that their Florida Park Service allocations will fall short of the requested amount. The Senate has proposed $27 million and the House $37 million. 

    The House also proposes only $20 million for Florida Forever although the Senate proposes $125 million. 

    “Our state park system is acknowledged as the best in the nation,” said President Gil Ziffer. “This was recognized nationally by the award of a record fourth Gold Medal for Excellence just this past fall.” 

    “Our state parks contribute to the state’s tourism industry while preserving many of the jewels of our natural environments and Florida’s significant historical and cultural sites,” he said. 

    “State parks and trails located in small towns and rural areas are sometimes the only economic driver in the community.  Visitors coming to these parks spend dollars for lodging and in restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, bait shops, etc. If not for state park operations these businesses might not otherwise exist,” he added.

    Last year, state parks and trails served more than 28 million visitors generating $2.6 billion in direct economic impact to local communities statewide creating more than 37,000 jobs as a result of state park operations. In addition, over $176 million was raised in the form of state sales tax.

     “If our state parks are not adequately funded, aging infrastructure cannot be replaced, urgent repairs cannot be made and the park experience for our millions of visitors will be diminished. This will have a devastating impact on both economic returns and the environment,” said Ziffer.

    The Foundation, working with the Florida Park Service, supports the work of Florida’s award-winning 175 state parks’ staff, local Friends groups and the 14,500 volunteers who donate 1.2 million hours of their time every year working in them. 

  • 01/02/2020 10:38 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation announced today that a major grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation will allow the primitive group camp at St. Andrews State Park to be restored and improved.
    Thanks to the $60,000 grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation, the camp will be restored, and major improvements made. These will include a new activities pavilion as most of the shade trees were destroyed, picnic tables, grills, safety lighting, access improvements, improvements to the restroom, and rebuilding the fire circle. The improvements will allow for longer stays and better experiences for Group Campers. 
    While at the camp, youth participate in swimming, fishing, hiking, nature observation and many additional resource-based recreational activities. For many of these children it is the first time they have slept outdoors under the stars, she added.

    Over the years, the camp has served hundreds of organized youth groups, many from local communities, but it was severely impacted by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.Hundreds of trees were lost along with many of the facilities needed to support important recreational activities.

    “The camp is important to provide youth, many of whom are increasingly removed from the natural environment, the opportunity to camp overnight in the wild outdoors of Florida, to connect with nature and to build lasting relationships with their friends and the environment”, said Julia Gill Woodward, CEO of Florida State Park Foundation.

    “We are very pleased to assist with enhancing this educational venue within St. Andrews State Park,” said April Wilkes, Executive Director of St. Joe Community Foundation, ‘’it is sure to be another one of the great little hidden gems to experience within the park for both locals and tourists to enjoy.” 

    St. Andrews State Park offers remarkable resource-based public outdoor recreation opportunities unique to its location at the confluence of St. Andrew Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Last year it had over 650,000 visitors.

    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.

  • 12/27/2019 12:58 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Glass bottom boats, in one form or another, have been operating at Silver Springs since 1924, possibly earlier – it’s a point argued over by historians.  What is known for sure though is that none of them have ever been accessible to people using wheelchairs.

    The boats in operation now were built in the 1960s and 70s before the accessibility and technology standards we enjoy today were in place.   These boats are a beautiful unique design but are not wheelchair accessible and it isn’t feasible to retrofit them.  People using mobility devices such as wheelchairs and scooters are excluded from the tours because the passenger must be able to step in and out of the boat.  The only solution is to build a brand-new boat which is a worthy but costly undertaking.         

    In 2013, the state assumed operation of the Silver Springs attraction which was very run down. The expense to repair and revitalize park infrastructure combined with coping with hurricane damage done in 2018 (the roof of a just built educational pavilion was seriously damaged) prohibits the Park Service from undertaking the expense of a new accessible boat on its own.

    The final costs of this important project will run between $450-$500,000. The Florida State Parks Foundation is investing along with the Felburn Foundation, Friends of Silver Springs State Park, the Florida Park Service, Lay, Pitman & Associates, and the Cape Leisure Corporation. These combined donations bring about three quarters of the total amount needed.

    Please help fill the gap with your own donation.  Grassroots support from individuals and small businesses can make or break a project. 

    No one should get left behind on the dock just because they can’t walk.

    Please, make your donation here. And be sure to specify Glass Bottom Boat Project.

  • 12/09/2019 3:57 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

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

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

    Gustafson graduated from the Ohio State University and began her career in Marketing and Sales as an account executive for a local FOX affiliate in Columbus, Ohio. After moving to Orlando in 1995, she spent three years in related Marketing and Sales roles as an account executive for a UPN broadcast affiliate and managed major publicity accounts for Gilbert and Manjura Marketing, including St. Johns County, Florida, Visitors and Convention Bureau. 

    Gustafson is currently an Executive with Universal Parks and Resorts and is responsible for Sales Integration across the global sales divisions and works with International teams located in Latin America and the UK. She joined Universal Orlando in September of 1997 as part of the Universal Studios Marketing team and was responsible for building the Universal Studios Florida brand on a global basis- growing to three theme parks, a night-time entertainment complex and seven onsite resorts. 

    Appointed by the Governor’s office to the Florida Commission on Tourism, Gustafson served as President of the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors from 2014-15 and has been on the board since 2005. She currently serves on the Florida Council of Tourism Leaders. She has also served on the board for the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce/Osceola Resort Area Council and served as a Past President and Treasurer of the Florida State Parks Foundation.

    Gustafson brings years of experience and extensive travel industry knowledge to these organizations and has been a part of Leadership Orlando and the Central Florida Chapter of the American Marketing Association.  

    “Throughout its history, the Florida Parks greatest strength has been its volunteers. I am honored to be asked to serve in this capacity,” said Tammy Gustafson, Board of Directors. “The best and brightest minds are coming together to help guide and preserve the Real Florida. Its an exciting time for the Foundation as we work toward the Strategic Goals for the coming year.”  

    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.

  • 11/18/2019 1:39 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today applauded Governor Ron DeSantis’ budget recommendations for America’s Best Parks, our award-winning Florida State Parks. 

    Foundation President Gil Ziffer, said, “The system of Florida State Parks and Trails is one of the state’s greatest success stories.  They contribute mightily to the state’s tourism industry while preserving many of the jewels of our natural environments and Florida’s significant historical and cultural sites. The Governor’s recommended budget shows his commitment to a bolder, brighter and better Florida through our state parks.”

    Governor DeSantis’ FY21 budget request includes $50 million for land management and repair and replacement of park facilities, an increase of $18.5 million over current budget; $4 million for ADA improvements and $1 million to replace old and unsafe park vehicles, which is a new funding request for park rangers’ most important tool.  

    “It is imperative that the Florida Park Service receives adequate funding to ensure that our state parks continue to be the best that they can be. When you compare the $55 million that has been requested with the $2.6 billion in economic impact that the state parks generated last year, drawing over 30 million visitors, it is hard to think of any other example that is a better return on the investment,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    The Foundation, founded in 1993, works in partnership with the Florida Park Service, to support the work of Florida’s award-winning 175 state parks and staff, local Friends’ groups and the 20,000 volunteers who donate 1.2 million hours of their time every year working in them. 

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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.

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