• 05/09/2018 12:05 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) program continues to expand and enormous thanks are due to all those who are making this possible. In the next few weeks we hope to employ a fulltime Programs Director (see below) and this should give LIFE an additional stimulus.

    When we took the LIFE program over three years ago, there were 7 participating state parks. At present, we have an awesome 34 parks offering the program or pledged to do so. That means tens of thousands of school children are learning about science and for many of them it is the first time they have ever been in a state park.

    Our aim is where practical, to have every one of our state parks used by local schools as open air classrooms for curriculum-based science labs.

    We are incredibly lucky to have Dale Allen as our first volunteer LIFE District Administrator in District 1 and we are actively looking for other folks to play a similar role in the other districts. Dale is a former science teacher and currently President of the Florida and Greenways Trails Foundation, the other statewide CSO group attached to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

    The role of the District LIFE administrators is to provide the support and stimulus needed to keep the momentum going. This means working with the parks, CSO groups, volunteers, local schools and school superintendents to increase program participation and where possible, working with local companies willing to financially support the program. This can be either through purchase of equipment or assisting with transportation costs to get the children to and from the park.

    If you are interested in being a District LIFE Administrator or know someone who might be a good candidate, please let us know.

    Two recent LIFE programs that attracted considerable attention took place at Oscar Scherer State Park and Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park and deserve mentioning.

    At Oscar Scherer, a group of Lamarque Elementary School fifth-graders, became wildlife biologists for a day and they could not have been more engaged. That was exactly what Katherine Clements, an educator with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Sarasota County, hoped would happen when she put the program together. It was the first of three LIFE field trips the students will complete during the year.

    The program is exciting because LIFE, originally designed for middle school grades, has now been extended to fifth-graders and is exposing them to real, hands-on scientific experiences. Clements hopes that some of these students will go on to become scientists, perhaps inspired by the lessons they learned at Oscar Scherer.

    The other success involves Alan Miller, a ranger at Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, who has long wanted to incorporate the LIFE program into the park’s activities.

    “The challenge, however, was their immediate neighbor, the Energy Marine Center (EMC). All area schools include the EMC in their curriculum and did not have a cost effective reason for adding a similar program here”, said park manager Adam Belden. 

    Alan, however, kept up his enthusiasm for the idea and started targeting home school groups either through social media or talking to parents with children exploring the park on a weekday.  His tenacity finally paid off with his first Home School LIFE interpretive and interactive program that hosted 29 students ages 3 to 16 as well 7 parents. “Today he exemplified what a Florida Park Service Ranger is and why the Florida Park Service is a three time gold medal winner,” said Adam. Hear, hear.

    There are many ways you can get involved and support children’s education in Florida’s state parks. You can volunteer to assist with the LIFE program as a volunteer and you can support it financially by clicking on the LIFE button in the drop down menu on the donations page.
  • 05/08/2018 11:07 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    On a near perfect Saturday at the end of April, I attended a packed District-wide Citizen Support Organization (CSO) meeting at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City.

    These meetings are incredibly important because they provide opportunities for park staff, CSOs and volunteers to learn and network from each other, and the sheer enthusiasm from all sides is inspiring and energizing.

    The Florida State Parks Foundation (formerly Friends of Florida State Parks) has changed its focus in recent years. While the mission is, and always will be, to support and sustain and protect and preserve our magnificent state parks, how we do that has evolved.

    We now include supporting and sustaining our CSO groups as one of our three key programs because this is vital to the success of our parks - and that is why these meeting are so important.

    There are 83 CSO groups statewide and last year 14,400 volunteers contributed over 1,200,000 hours working in Florida’s award winning and nationally-acclaimed state parks. The work performed by these volunteers would have required an additional 666 full-time employees thus saving taxpayers almost $29 million.

    CSOs assist parks in many ways. They fundraise, provide special events and visitor programs, and contribute to capital improvement projects that the Division of Recreation and Parks would not have had the financial ability or staffing to complete. They interact with members of the public and they can be found in the parks whatever the weather, doing whatever is necessary to enhance the visitor experience. That is why the Foundation is committed to doing everything it can to make the lives of our CSOs easier so that they can focus on their mission which is supporting the work of their individual parks.

    Our volunteers, and the rangers they work alongside, are the public face of the parks but what they help achieve is often less appreciated and understood. The 175 state parks, greenways and trails have an overall direct economic impact of over $3 billion dollars on local economies throughout the state. Over $72 million was added last year to the state’s general revenue fund in the form of state sales taxes, and approximately 19,000 jobs were supported as the result of the state parks, greenways and trails operations.

    These numbers are staggering and the only thing more staggering is the sheer beauty and diversity of the state parks that make this possible.

    Your membership of the Foundation helps make this possible and for that we are forever grateful. Check out the website of your local state park and it will tell you if it has a CSO. It will also tell you about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities and other ways in which you can support it.

    Thank you and continue to support our state parks and the people who work in them.
  • 04/15/2018 11:03 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Friends of Jonathan Dickinson State Park people with limited mobility can now get out on the park’s trails with family and friends.  And, that’s just what I did using their new Action Trackchair.

    The Action Trackchair is an all-terrain power “wheelchair” that doesn’t have wheels!  It has tracks like a tank or bulldozer making it possible to go from pavement to dirt and gravel, mud, and even loose sand.  You can see the chair in use on Kitching Creek Trail here.

    Johnathan Dickinson State Park is located in South Florida in Martin and Palm Beach Counties.  For more information go to the webpage at the link above or Johnathan Dickinson State Park.
  • 04/14/2018 10:58 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    A Special Deluxe Edition Real Florida Passport is now available to the thousands of park visitors who love to collect a commemorative stamp to remember their visits to our fabulous state parks.

    With over 32 million visitors every year that is potentially a lot of passports and a lot of stamps but much more important, it is a lot of memories.

    Many of us have a favorite park which we have visited repeatedly over the years – and we now cherish the memories of those visits as we camped with young children now grown or canoed a beautiful stretch of river or just enjoyed being surrounded by nature.

    Noah Valenstein, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, recalls that one of his favorite park memories is of growing up in Gainesville and swimming with friends and family “in the sometimes delightfully warm, sometimes refreshingly cool (depending on the weather outside) spring at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park”.

    We all have our memories and every visit to a new state park will add to them.

    The new Passport is your invitation to get out and explore more parks and experience the diversity and beauty they have to offer. Each park is different and has something special to offer the visitor – one of the reasons the Florida Park Service has won the National Gold Medal for Excellence a record three times.

    The Passport is also a mine of information, listing all the parks you can visit to explore and enjoy before getting your stamp. Years from now, you will be able to thumb your well-worn passport and recall all the wonderful experiences you had as you collected your park stamps.

    Purchase the Special Edition Deluxe Real Florida Passport online or at select Florida State Parks. Start your adventure by visiting any of the Stamp Collection locations listed in the passport to receive a stamp and start building those memories.

    We would also love to hear from you about those memories. You can share your photos and stories with us – and others – by using the hashtag #EveryStampIsAStory . Go out, explore and enjoy, and support our wonderful state parks. 
  • 04/13/2018 10:43 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    The winners of the 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Awards have now all received their plaques and certificates at ceremonies around that state and the list of their achievements in support of Florida’s parks is truly amazing.

    The awards, sponsored by Friends of Florida State Parks, recognize the very best in volunteerism and choosing the winners in each of the categories is no easy task.

    There are 85 CSO groups and more than 14,400 volunteers supporting our award-winning parks and trails by donating more than 1.2 million hours of service annually. In addition, they organize thousands of events every year and raise millions of dollars for special projects and to support the work of park managers and their staff.

    While the volunteer appreciation awards celebrate the best of the best, every single volunteer deserves recognition and our thanks for the tremendous job they do, day in and day out, to help make our state parks the very best in the nation.

    Later this year, nominations will open for the 2018 awards. If you know of someone or a group of people that deserve recognition, please bring it to the attention of a park manager. We want to honor all those who have provided extraordinary service and thank them in a tangible way for their time and commitment.

    Congratulations to all our winners and for all our volunteers who do such incredible work in all our state parks – THANK YOU!  To learn more about the award winners and their amazing achievements, please go to the Volunteer Appreciation webpage.

    The 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Award winners are:

    Director’s Special Volunteer Service Award

    Jim Ellis, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

    Motorola Solutions Corporate Contributor of the Year

    Dr. Von D. Mizell - Eula Johnson State Park


    CSO Awards

    Overall Citizen Support Organization of the Year

    Friends of Fort Clinch

    Citizen Support Organization (CSO) of the Year - Resource-based Recreation

    Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park  

    Volunteer of the Year - Administration

    Nancy Olson - Bahia Honda State Park

    Volunteer of the Year – Park Maintenance

    Bill Lewis, Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway

    Volunteer of the Year – Park Maintenance

    Jean Fletcher, Hontoon Island State Park

    Volunteer of the Year – Resource Management

    Susan Kolterman, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park

    Volunteer of the Year - Resource Management 

    Robert ‘Bob’ Deyle, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

    Volunteer of the Year – Visitor Service 

    Karen Cloud, Dade Battlefield Historic State Park

    Volunteer of the Year – Visitor Service 

    Sam Carr, Dunns Creek State Park

    Youth Volunteer of the Year - Maintenance

    Matthew Thayer, Colt Creek State Park

    Youth Volunteer of the Year – Visitor Service 

    Makenzie Shaw, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Park


    Team and Event Awards

    Team of 2 of the Year – Maintenance 

    Darwin and JoAnne Matthews, Anastasia State Park and Ravine Gardens State Park

    Team of 2 of the Year – Resource Management

    Bob and Marteen Dillon, Bahia Honda State Park

    Team of 2 of the Year – Visitor Service

    Philip and Ann (Mickie) Anderson, Myakka River State Park

    Team of 3+ of the Year – Maintenance

    Freddie & Deb Morgan, Chris Graves and Mike Crane, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

    Team of 3+ of the Year – Resource Management

    Beach Cleanup Team, Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach

    Team of 3+ of the Year – Protection

    Bulkhead Reinforcement Team, Hontoon Island State Park

    Special Cultural Event of the Year

    Moon Over Maclay, Friends of Maclay Gardens Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park

    Overall Special Event of the Year

    Celebrate Cayo Costa, Friends of Cayo Costa Cayo Costa State Park

    Team of 3+ of the Year – Visitor Service

    Tom Adler, Earl Cross, Barry Blitvich, Shaun Suydam, Mike Anderson and Steve Lemonds, Myakka River State Park 

    Special Event of the Year - Historical

    CCC Festival, Highlands Hammock State Park 

    Special Event of the Year – Resource Management

    Get to Know Colt Creek, Friends of Colt Creek State Park

    Special Event of the Year – Natural Resource Education

    Earth Day Celebration, Dunns Creek State Park

    Long-Term Project of the Year - Historical

    CCC Statue #71, Friends of Ft. Clinch State Park 

    Short-Term Project of the Year – Cultural 

    Bird Peninsula Restoration, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Park 

    Short-Term Project of the Year – Resource-based Recreation

    Manatee Pavilion, Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach

    Special Event of the Year – Resource-based Recreation

    Earth Day Bio Blitz, Friends of Oscar Scherer State Park Oscar Scherer State Park


    20+ Years of Volunteer Service

    Lynn Cherry, Camp Helen State Park - 21 Years of Volunteer Service

    Arthur Nersadian, Fort Cooper State Park - 30 Years of Volunteer Service

    Agnes Eslava, Rainbow Springs State Park - 24 Years of Volunteer Service

    Amilcar Eslava, Rainbow Springs State Park - 26 Years of Volunteer Service

    Shirley Kuntz, Rainbow Springs State Park - 21 Years of Volunteer Service

    Mary Lou Amirault, Rainbow Springs State Park - 20 Years of Volunteer Service

    Linda Brown, Rainbow Springs State Park - 22 Years of Volunteer Service

    Bob Sprenzel, Rainbow Springs State Park - 24 Years of Volunteer Service

    Cathy Moore, Little Manatee River State Park - 32 Years of Volunteer Service

    Myra Coggesshall, Highlands Hammock State Park - 20 Years of Volunteer Service

    Bob Sendry, Oscar Scherer State Park - 21 Years of Volunteer Service

    Janet Heaton, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park - 25 Years of Volunteer Service

    Carol Herzog, Savannas Preserve State Park - 21 Years of Volunteer Service

    Henry Maursey, Savannas Preserve State Park - 20 Years of Volunteer Service

  • 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.

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