Blog

  • 08/26/2021 12:56 PM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)


    OCALA, Fla. – The first wheelchair-accessible glass-bottom boat to join the Silver Springs State Park fleet was officially dedicated today.

    The Florida State Parks Foundation commissioned Lay, Pitman & Associates Naval Architects to design the 37-foot boat, which includes a flat deck and spacious aisles providing easy and convenient access for wheelchairs. It is also equipped with an induction-loop system that assists passengers using hearing aids to listen to the captain's narration. 

    “We are committed to making nature and our award-winning state parks accessible to all,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer. “This new wheelchair-accessible boatallows everyone to enjoy the famous glass-bottom-boat tours at Silver Springs, which have been operating since the 1870s.”

    In keeping with the tradition of naming the glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs after Seminole tribal chiefs, the new boat is named Chief Potackee – Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, after the only woman to serve as chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. 

    Paula Russo, a former president of the Florida State Parks Foundation, initially advocated for a wheelchair-accessible glass-bottom boat and for the last several years has worked tirelessly to bring it into existence. 

    The vessel was built at the St. Johns Ship Building shipyard near Palatka. 

    “I’m so glad that this day is finally here,” said Russo, who uses a wheelchair. “Silver Springs is a magnificent example of Florida’s natural beauty, and everyone deserves the opportunity to experience all that it offers.”

    Rep. Stan McClain, Rep. Allison Tant, Sen. Dennis Baxley and Sen. Keith Perry were among the community leaders to speak at the dedication ceremony.

    Moses Jumper Jr., the son of the boat’s namesake and Associate Justice, Snake Clan, Seminole Tribe of Florida, was also among the event’s featured speakers.

    “Since Silver Springs became a state park, we have been committed to making the park a world-class destination,” said Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper. “Our goal of access for all is realized with this new glass-bottom boat available for people who use wheelchairs. 

    In addition to the Foundation, a consortium of public and private partners helped fund the boat, including the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, the Felburn Foundation, the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund, the Florida Park Service, Friends of Silver Springs State Park and Cape Leisure. 

    “Generous donors to the Florida State Parks Foundation are funding important projects and programs and making a difference in many Florida State Parks,” Draper added. “We are so very grateful.”   

    The Florida State Parks 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 11,000 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

    Reaction from Florida legislators in attendance:

    Sen. Dennis Baxley: “It is very exciting to see this finally come to fruition and ensure that all of our residents, no matter their physical limitations, are able to enjoy glass-bottom boat tours at Silver Springs State Park.”

    Sen. Stan McClain: “It is a wonderful day. The new all-accessible glass-bottom boat takes a huge step in opening up the beautiful Silver Springs for everyone to enjoy!”

    Sen. Keith Perry: “As a Senator whose district includes the Ocala National Forest, we are lucky that there are more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs to explore in our area. You can swim, canoe or kayak to enjoy the springs. It is the perfect place for people to enjoy nature and see some of old Central Florida.” 

    Rep. Allison Tant: “I am thrilled to see our Florida State Parks focus on inclusivity for individuals with disabilities. I salute the Florida State Parks Foundation for ensuring that all our beautiful parks are accessible for everyone to enjoy.”

  • 08/16/2021 1:30 PM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)


    From left to right: Eric Kiefer, Assistant Park Manager, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park; LeAnn Hinson, Park Manager, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park; Juliet Roulhac, Director External Affairs, FPL; Katherine MacGregor, VP Environmental Services, FPL; Gale Butler, Executive Director of Friends of Hugh Taylor Birch; Meredith Rollo, Sustainability & Outreach Manager, Environmental Services, FPL; Kevin Jones, Bureau Chief, District 5, Florida Park Service

    A six-person wheelchair accessible electric tram is in service at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park thanks to a substantial grant from Florida Power & Light Company (FPL). 

    The $22,000 grant to the Florida State Parks Foundation was made available through FPL’s charitable arm, the NextEra Energy Foundation. Last year they also helped fund a similar tram at John. D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach.

    “These trams are an amazing asset for our state parks,” said Julia Gill Woodward, Florida State Parks Foundation CEO. “They are a great boost to visitors who use wheelchairs and they are eco-friendly.”

    “Our Foundation and the Florida Park Service are committed to making our award-winning state parks more accessible and this new tram will not only lower emissions and be less noisy but will enable our mobility-impaired visitors the opportunity to see much more of the state park’s incredible natural areas.”

    The MotoEV Electro Neighborhood Buddy six passenger tram has a four-kw AC motor for less maintenance and more torque to climb tough terrain. It can travel 50 miles on a single charge and costs about one penny a mile. The onboard chargers also allow the vehicle’s batteries to be topped up at any charging stations.

    “Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is known as an oasis where Florida residents and visitors can explore the beaches, trails, coastal mangroves and enjoy activities in natural surroundings,” said Kate MacGregor, FPL vice president of environmental services. “FPL is thrilled to donate this tram to help Floridians more easily access this beautiful park in a sustainable way.” 

    The Florida State Parks Foundation supports the work of Florida’s award-winning 175 state parks and the more than 20,000 volunteers who donate 1.2 million hours of their time annually. Florida’s parks attract 29 million visitors every year and have a statewide economic impact of more than $2.6 billion. 

  • 07/26/2021 8:00 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)


    Representative Paul Renner, who represents District 24, visited Washington Oaks Gardens State Park on Friday as a guest of the Florida State Parks Foundation and the Florida Park Service.

    Representative Renner, a retired naval veteran and attorney, will be Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 2022-24. The Palm Coast visit was to brief him about new developments at the park and to discuss issues affecting all of Florida’s 175 award-winning parks and trails.

    Florida State Parks Foundation President Gil Ziffer stressed both the environmental and economic importance of the state parks. “Our state parks attract 28 million visitors from around the world, have an economic impact to the state of $2.4 billion and support more than 33,500 jobs,” he said. 

    “And, as 2020 clearly demonstrated, Florida’s state parks play an important role in providing open spaces where people can recreate and exercise in a safe, socially distanced environment,” he said.

    "We had a wonderful visit at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, where friendly staff and volunteers shared their vast knowledge of native plant species, preservation practices, and the rich history of the Gardens," said Representative Renner. "Thank you to the individuals working at Washington Oaks Gardens and across our State Parks System for their dedication to ensuring that  our 175 award-winning Florida State Parks and Trails continue to provide a substantial environmental and economic benefit to our state," he added. 

    The formal gardens are the centerpiece of Washington Oaks, with remarkable displays of native and exotic plant species such as azaleas, camellias, and bird of paradise. The gardens offer visitors a peaceful stroll through winding reflection ponds which are sheltered by a picturesque oak hammock. Washington Oaks is also famous for the unique shoreline of coquina rock formations that line its Atlantic beach. 

    Washington Oaks Gardens State Park attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year, supports more than 130 local jobs and has an economic impact of more than $10 million a 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 06/30/2021 8:00 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    Last night, Governor DeSantis signed the enabling bill that authorizes a specialty license plate for Florida’s award-winning state parks.

    “We are grateful that the Governor has signed this bill. It will have a huge impact on our fabulous state parks,” said Gil Ziffer, President of the Florida State Parks Foundation, which sponsored the legislation. Pre-sales of the specialty plate will start in October.

    “Thanks to overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, the Florida State Parks specialty license plate is now a reality”, he said. “It is extremely unusual for an enabling bill like this to go through in just one legislative session but that demonstrates how much support it had in both chambers,” he said. 

    “Special thanks go to Senator Dennis Baxley and Representative Allison Tant for successfully championing the bill,” he said.

    “Our Florida State Parks are a wonderful resource for our citizens to learn, grow and play. Our parks need to be protected and I am excited to get this license plate bill passed and help provide some much-needed funding to preserve these state treasures,” said Senator Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. 

    House Bill sponsor, Representative Allison Tant said, “The Florida State Parks specialty license plate will provide funding to address crumbling infrastructure, improve structures, preserve animal and plant habitats, and provide more ADA certified improvements to increase access to the great outdoors”.                          

    “The approval of the specialty state park license plate is significant and will provide impactful and ongoing funding to enable us to protect and preserve the nation’s best state park system," said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “Although our state parks are the only four-time National Gold Medal winners for excellence, there is much that needs to be done to ensure they continue to be recognized as world leaders. Funds from this specialty license plate will help us achieve this,” she said.

    “Florida’s state parks offer safe environments to recreate and socialize. The demand for these open spaces will continue to increase as Florida’s population is expected to top 23 million by 2025 and tourism numbers grow,” she added. 

    “To meet this growing and important role it is important that state parks continue to provide exceptional value in terms of visitor experience and the range of outdoor pursuits available. It is also important that these pursuits are available to the widest possible audience both in terms of accessibility and diversity." 

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 06/24/2021 8:30 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    An eleven-person wheelchair accessible electric tram went into service this week at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park thanks to a $30,000 grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation to the Florida State Parks Foundation.

    “This accessible electric tram, made possible by the St. Joe Community Foundation’s very generous grant, is a great boost to visitors who use wheelchairs enabling them to see more of Topsail’s incredible natural areas,” said Gil Ziffer, Florida State Parks Foundation President.

    “Both the Foundation and the Florida Park Service are working to make our award-winning state parks ever more accessible, and this new tram is part of our commitment to this end. Electric trams also provide lower emission and less noise, leading to a more enjoyable experience for the park visitor,” he added.

    “This project, which will provide greater access to the park for all visitors, aligns with the values of the St. Joe Community Foundation”, said April Wilkes, St. Joe Community Foundation Executive Director, “We are pleased to assist the Florida State Parks Foundation with another regional state park enhancement to better the visitor experience at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.”  

    Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is a 1,640-acre Florida State Park located in Santa Rosa Beach, ten miles east of Destin. The park is named for its dunes, which rise like ship’s sails over soft sand beaches and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Topsail Hill offers three miles of pristine beaches and attracts over 200,000 visitors annually. 

    The Florida State Parks 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 06/17/2021 5:34 PM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation has partnered with Surfing's Evolution & Preservation Foundation to provide beach wheelchairs at ten of Florida’s most popular beach state parks. The wheelchairs will be available in the parks by early summer.

    The beach wheelchairs can be used in areas with soft sand where conventional wheelchairs would get stuck. They can even be wheeled into shallow waters. Ten coastal parks around the state will each receive one wheelchair.

    “Increasing accessibility for all is one of our missions and these new beach wheelchairs will allow people with mobility problems the opportunity to get on the beach with their family and friends. They will help create a new experience for them,” said Florida State Parks Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

    Surfing’s Evolution & Preservation Foundation, Inc. is a charitable organization founded by surfing legend Ron DiMenna and his wife Lynne, to recognize the importance of the beach and surfing lifestyle in Florida and protect these beaches for future generations to enjoy. Their focus is on keeping the beaches safe and healthy, by supporting programs and events of other organizations that support beaches and oceans and promote education on beach safety.

    “Surfing's Evolution & Preservation Foundation is excited to partner with the Florida State Parks Foundation to provide beach wheelchairs to ten of its parks. We believe that our beaches should be enjoyed by everyone and we are so pleased to be able to increase accessibility for people who may not be able to get on the beach without assistance,” said Stacey Kirby, Foundation Administrator. “It is our hope that these Sand Rider beach wheelchairs will be enjoyed by many beach lovers for years to come. To support Surfing’s Evolution & Preservation Foundation, and to learn about our Endless Summer® specialty license plate, please visit: www.preservesurfingbeaches.org.”

    State parks receiving the beach wheelchairs are: Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola; Grayton Beach State Park, Santa Rosa Beach; Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach; Little Talbot Island State Park, Jacksonville; Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine; Sebastian Inlet State Park, Melbourne Beach; Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples; Gasparilla Island State Park, Boca Grande; Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West and Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, Fort Pierce.

    The Florida State Parks 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 06/10/2021 10:18 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    Florida’s award-winning state parks are rightly acknowledged as the best in the nation and one reason are its magnificent beaches which attract millions of visitors every year.

    St. George Island State Park in the Panhandle and Caladesi Island State Park west of Tampa, have just been named among the nation’s 2021 Top Ten beaches in the annual listing by ‘Dr. Beach’.

    Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, better known as ‘Dr. Beach’, is director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami. His top ten rankings are based on scientific studies of the shore and its environment. He has been ranking the top beaches in the U.S. for 30 years and Florida’s beach parks have consistently featured.

    Grayton Beach State Park near Santa Rosa Beach was not eligible for this year’s ranking as it won the title of best beach in 2020.

    “While we have some of the most unspoiled, sandy, sun-kissed beaches in the world, they are much more than just a tourist attraction, albeit a very lucrative one. Beach parks contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the state’s economy and support thousands of local jobs,” said Gil Ziffer, President of the Florida State Parks Foundation. 

    “Florida State Parks has 100 miles of the best beaches in the state and arguably the world, and works with all its partners to preserve them, ensuring they will continue to inspire and protect the residents and visitors of Florida for generations to come,” he said.

    “Protecting our beaches is critical because they each support delicate ecosystems and many imperiled species. Sand dunes capped by sea oats provide vital protection to our beach ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabit it.  Sea oat root systems hold beach dunes together and prevents the sand and soil from blowing away during storms,” said Ziffer.

    “The dunes, in turn, protect the coastline from storm surge and erosion. They also provide essential habitat to a variety of wildlife, including nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.”

    Florida is host to the largest population of nesting loggerhead sea turtles in the world and offers refuge to nesting, resting shorebirds. The Florida Keys has the third largest reef system in the world and is the site of many protection efforts.

    “It is crucial that our world-class beaches continue to receive the investment needed to restore, maintain and protect our state’s coastal resources,” he said.

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 06/07/2021 8:28 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The first wheelchair accessible glass bottom boat to join the Silver Springs State Park’s fleet has successfully completed its sea trials, the Florida State Parks Foundation announced today.

    “The 37-foot vessel was built at the St. Johns Ship Building shipyard near Palatka and received Coast Guard clearance last week,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward. "It is expected to enter regular service in the next few weeks."

    The Florida State Parks Foundation commissioned Lay, Pitman, & Associates Naval Architects, to design the boat, which includes a flat deck and ample aisles providing easy and convenient access for wheelchairs.  It is also equipped with an induction-loop system that assists passengers using hearing aids listen to the captain's narration. 

    “We are committed to making nature and our award-winning state parks accessible to all,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer. “This new wheelchair accessible boatwill allow everyone to enjoy the famous glass bottom boat tours at Silver Springs,” he said.

    In keeping with the tradition of naming the glass bottom boats at Silver Springs after Seminole tribal chiefs, the new boat will be named Chief Potackee after the only female chief of the tribe.

    In addition to the Foundation, a consortium of public and private partners has helped fund the boat, including the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, the Felburn Foundation, the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund, the Florida Park Service, Friends of Silver Springs State Park and Cape Leisure. 

    The Florida State Parks 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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

  • 06/04/2021 10:28 AM | Julia Gill Woodward (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation is partnering with the Gulf Power Foundation on three park enhancement projects in the Panhandle worth over $145,000.

    “We are delighted to partner with the Gulf Power Foundation on these projects which will greatly enhance the visitor experience at three of Florida’s most popular, award-winning state parks,” said Gil Ziffer, Foundation President.                                         

    “This is our first partnering with the Gulf Power Foundation and it is great that they have chosen one park project in each of their three regions,” he said.

    The projects include a new campground playground at Big Lagoon State Park, which attracts 110,000 visitors annually. Their old playground was destroyed due to hurricane damage and it is hoped that work can start shortly

    Henderson Beach State Park, which has 385,000 visitors a year, is receiving grant funds to refurbish their campground beach access boardwalk. Work is expected to start next month on a small section of the boardwalk with the bulk of the project scheduled to start after the peak summer visitation months.

    The third project is for trail improvements to the Gator Lake Trail at St. Andrews State Park which has 472,000 visitors a year. The project will start in June and will include new interpretive panels for the trail as well as benches. The trail suffered significant damage during Hurricane Michael.

    “The beauty of Northwest Florida is one of the treasures of this region, so maintaining these state parks is a high priority,” said Sandy Sims, executive director for the Gulf Power Foundation. “The Gulf Power Foundation is proud to be able to assist with this important work. Maintaining the environment is part of our mission to support our communities in Northwest Florida.”

  • 05/03/2021 8:01 AM | Lauren Kelly-Manders (Administrator)

    The Florida State Parks Foundation today applauded the Legislature’s decision to fully fund Florida’s award-winning state parks.

    “In every sense this has been one of the most successful legislative sessions ever as far as Florida’s award-winning state parks are concerned. This is a year of record funding,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

    “Both the House and the Senate recognized the important multi-faceted role that our state parks play and agreed to increased funding over and above that requested by the Governor,” he said.

    The final approved budget provides $50 million for fixed capital outlay for facility repairs, improvements and so on, $13.8 million for the Land and Recreation Grant programs, $1.5 m for recreational trails programs, and $2 million for Florida Recreational Development Assistance programs.

    “Florida State Parks represent one of the state’s greatest success stories. They are a major contributor to the state’s tourism industry, support thousands of jobs, and pour billions of dollars into the state’s economy. At the same time, they preserve many of the jewels of our natural environment and Florida’s significant historical and cultural sites,” Ziffer said.

    “As the acknowledged premier state park system in the nation, it is vital that Florida State Parks continue to receive full funding and we are grateful that the legislature acknowledged this. When comparing the $50 million that has been provided for fixed capital outlay in the budget with the $2.6 billion in economic impact the state parks generated in 2019 from nearly 30 million visitors, it is difficult to think of a better return on the investment anywhere,” he said.

    “Florida’s state parks play an important role in providing open spaces where people can recreate and exercise in a safe, socially distanced environment. The demand for these open spaces will continue to increase as Florida’s population is expected to top 23 million by 2025 and tourism numbers grow,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.

    “To meet this growing demand, it is important that state parks continue to provide exceptional value in terms of visitor experience and the range of outdoor pursuits available. It is also important that these pursuits are available to the widest possible audience both in terms of accessibility and diversity,” she said.

    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 represents private and public sectors as well as local and statewide interests.

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