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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The workshop schedule is as follows:

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

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

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

    Don Philpott. FFSP Executive Director

  • 08/10/2017 8:55 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    After months of detailed fine tuning, the final concept design for the Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park has now been completed. Even though construction has not yet started, the garden, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, has already attracted the attention of the medical and therapeutic community.

    Faculty and graduate students from Adventist University of Health Science’s Occupational Therapy Department recently spent two days at the site as groundwork for the first evidence-based research study to be performed at the garden.

    The ongoing study will explore quality of life impacts of the Serenity Garden’s design and programs for four specified groups: seniors, people who have lost their sight, Wounded Warrior Veterans, and children and adults with autism.

    National and regional expertise has been engaged in designing the garden according to the evidence-based principles established by the American Therapeutic Horticultural Association. The garden, the first of its kind in any state or national park, represents the next innovative wave in the movement to expand equitable access to nature for people of all ages and diverse abilities. 

    It will offer a peaceful, welcoming retreat in which people of all ages and abilities can feel comfortable while enjoying unique experiences surrounded by nature. The garden, which has doubled in size, will transform one-acre of disturbed land behind the existing nature education center. Lushly landscaped with a regional palette of native plants, the garden will feature interactive and sensory elements, and enhanced opportunities for relaxation, exercise, social gathering, education, and therapeutic programming. 

    The use of specialty gardens for the enrichment of human health and wellness dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. In the 21st century, here in the United States, research at major hospitals and universities began to produce a body of modern evidence, and it is now understood that time spent in green spaces can benefit human health in ways both culturally significant and scientifically measurable.

    Through its participation in this research, the American Therapeutic Horticultural Association eventually solidified a set of evidence-based principles which became the standards for the development of gardens used for therapeutic purposes.

    Gardens now serve in therapeutic capacities at many hospitals, rehabilitation centers, psychiatric facilities, nursing homes and vocational rehabilitation programs all across the country but none are as comprehensive as the Serenity Garden at Wekiwa.

    The landscape architecture has been specifically designed to the highest possible standards and purposes of accessibility, universal design, education, safety, and enjoyment by visitors of all ages and abilities. The design represents a seamless melding of highly accessible features that support sensory, physical, and emotional restoration and revitalization for visitors with diverse needs and abilities, and facilitates the highest possible level of enhanced opportunity and engagement for recreational activity, exercise, educational, and therapeutic programming for visitors of all ages and abilities. 

    Detailed site plans are now being prepared to allow work on the hardscape to begin in the next few weeks.

    For more information go to
  • 07/13/2017 12:50 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    LAKELAND, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service joined Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Colleen Burton, Friends of Colt Creek State Park and other local representatives for a groundbreaking ceremony, announcing the construction of new campground facilities at Colt Creek State Park.

    The new campground will include 28 campsites and one bathhouse. Camping facilities include three accessible RV sites, four tent sites and two additional tent sites with mobility features. The $2 million project is expected to be completed in January 2018.

    “The department is proud to partner with Polk County and the Friends of Colt Creek State Park to benefit Florida’s residents and visitors,” said Gary Clark, DEP deputy secretary for land and recreation. “This new campground will offer park visitors an opportunity to explore the Lakeland area and enjoy the natural treasures right here in Central Florida.”

    “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 begin phase one of this project on the tenth anniversary of the park, it’s great to see so much enthusiasm for the park and campground with our partners today.”

    “This project is a great example of the good things that can happen when we all join together to get something done for our community,” said Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel. “I can’t think of a better setting for people to enjoy the natural beauty of Florida than Colt Creek State Park.”

    “The park enhances the quality of life of Polk County residents,” said Florida Rep. Colleen Burton. “I am very pleased to see this project and look forward to the expanded recreation opportunities for our local community as well as all visitors to Florida.”

    “Colt Creek State Park is a hidden gem and a great place to experience the beauty of natural Florida," said Congressman Dennis Ross. "I am thrilled to see this new opportunity for our community.”

    Colt Creek State Park encompasses 5,067 acres and offers more than 15 miles of beautiful, multi-use trails which provide hiking, biking and 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.

  • 07/13/2017 12:39 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    That was the cheer heard from Florida Park Service staff when the latest tally came in showing they had broken the all-time record for invasive plant removal in a fiscal year.

    And, they have every reason to be proud.  As breaking records and accomplishing never-before-completed amounts of work clearly demonstrates the success of their land management program. 

    As, Parks Small, Chief of Bureau of Natural and Cultural Resources with the Florida Park Service, explains, “It takes everyone knocking it out of the park for such an achievement to be possible.  We can successfully run a program that combines paid staff, volunteers, partners and the private sector into one workforce that gets the job done and benefits everyone and the resources.  Every acre of invasive plants brought into maintenance means an acre of land with lower future management costs.  Give us sufficient resources and we will accomplish great things.” 

  • 07/12/2017 11:33 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    The garden will be available for relaxing activities such as tai chi, meditation and yoga, and educational areas of the garden have been planned to support special events, educational programs and workshops.                             

    APOPKA, Fla. – DEP's Florida Park Service is partnering with the Wekiva Wilderness Trust (WWT) to create an accessible serenity garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park to expand access and enhance the park experience for visitors with diverse abilities. This innovative project will transform a half-acre site within the park into an innovative garden oasis that creates unique opportunities for people of all abilities to relax, explore and interact with nature. The garden will create a dynamic, fully accessible environment featuring lush native plants, accessible winding paths, water elements, interactive exhibits, exercise areas and gathering spaces to facilitate educational programs and special events.

    “The department is very excited about this project, which will provide groundbreaking opportunities for relaxation, contemplation and education,” said Gary Clark, DEP deputy secretary of land and recreation. “Thanks to our many partners, we will be able to create inclusive experiences at the park for all visitors, including people who use wheelchairs, people with autism and those with other chronic conditions.”

    DEP is providing $50,000 in funding for the joint project, which is being managed by WWT – a nonprofit volunteer group that regularly partners with the park. Other project partners include Friends of Florida State Parks; the Seminole County Master Gardener Program with University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; occupational therapist and award-winning author Dr. Amy Wagenfeld; award-winning landscape architecture firm Dix. Hite + Partners; the engineering firm of Carnahan Proctor and Cross; and Sweetwater Oaks Gardening Club. 

    “This is truly a pioneering effort in the advancement of equitable access to nature,” said Sarafaith Pekor, project manager. “Partnerships with healthcare organizations, occupational therapists and universities are going to ensure the project’s ability to open the park to many more people and enrich lives through outreach, education and research.”

    “Expanding access and offering a unique way for people of all ages and diverse abilities to enjoy the park is something we are very excited about,” said Robert Brooks, manager of the Wekiva River Basin State Parks.

    The project is currently in the design phase with work on paths, irrigation and other hardscape elements beginning soon. The total project cost is estimated to be $200,000-$250,000 and the garden is expected to be open within a year. Wekiwa Springs State Park will continue to provide a variety of recreational activities, including hiking and biking, as well as swimming in the iconic springs.
  • 07/12/2017 11:24 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    The mascot of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a much admired, graceful, elegant raptor that can be found throughout much of the state from early spring to early fall. During the winter months, all of the United States’ swallow-tailed kites can be found in Brazil. The kites begin to leave Brazil around the turn of the year and fly more than 3,000 miles to the south-eastern USA. The first kites are often reported from southern Florida in early February but the bulk of our state population doesn’t arrive until late-March/early-April.

    Flying with consummate ease the kite plucks frogs, lizards, snakes, ants, dragonflies and even nestlings from the tops of trees; in Central America, kites have even been observed eating fruit! Kites prefer to eat their food on the wing. During the spring and summer it is not uncommon to see several pairs of kites building their nests in close proximity to each other.

    Look for swallow-tailed kites over wetland habitats, along rivers, over agricultural fields (particularly in late summer) and pine forest. Large congregations of kites gather in select areas around Florida in late July and August before they embark on their long journey south to Brazil.

    The Avian Research and Conservation Institute has been studying swallow-tailed kites since 1988. Their research has revealed many important and fascinating aspects of kite ecology. To learn more visit the ARCI website.

    To learn more about where you can see swallow-tailed kites in Florida visit the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail website.

    - article taken from the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail's monthly newsletter “Kite Tails"

    Read the article here.

  • 07/12/2017 11:16 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a network of 510 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state. When you want to know where to go in Florida to see native birds, butterflies and more, head for the Trail. It’s Your Road to Adventure!

    With no less than 84 Florida State Parks on the GFBWT there are plenty of opportunities to view Florida’s flora and fauna and have the creature comforts and amenities many of us need and want.  With few exceptions, all Florida State Parks have the basic niceties such as parking and restrooms.  And many have added features kayak rental, tour boats, swimming, maintained trails, and museums to help us understand the nature we are seeing.

    Click here for a list of Florida State Parks on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
  • 06/15/2017 10:43 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)
    KEY WEST, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service joined Naval Air Station Key West, the city of Key West and other local representatives for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The new entrance includes a new access route for pedestrians and vehicles leading into the park, a new ranger station and a new ticket booth for pedestrians and bicyclists. Other improvements that were part of the $1.7 million project include a new road, sidewalks, bike lanes, the installation of a new entry gate, an ornamental security fence and new lighting.

    "I'm excited to open this new entrance that will improve access and convenience at Florida's southernmost state park," said Florida State Parks Assistant Director Matt Mitchell. "Many thanks to all of our partners on this project including NAS Key West and the city of Key West, as well as our staff and volunteers who made this project a reality."

    Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973, Florida’s southernmost state park is popular for recreation, as well as U.S. military history. The fort was one of a series built in the mid-1800s to defend the nation’s southeastern coastline. Completed in 1866, Fort Zachary Taylor played important roles in the Civil War and Spanish-American War. Key West’s favorite beach, located at the southern end of the park, provides opportunities for picnicking, swimming, snorkeling and fishing.

    (the above image is of Matt Mitchell, Florida State Parks assistant Directors; Captain Bobby Baker, commander, NAS Key West, Erin Muir, assistant to Representative Holly Rashchein; Jim Scholl, Key West City manager; and John Mael, Florida State Parks District 5 bureau chief.)

  • 06/15/2017 10:33 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Florida State Parks could not maintain the high level of service to Florida’s citizens and visitors without the work of volunteers. There are approximately 85 CSOs each devoted to supporting a specific state park or sometimes a group of parks located in the same vicinity. Each year the Florida Park Service nominates CSOs who have especially gone above and beyond and a committee of the Friends of Florida State Parks pick the winner. Friends of Camp Helen State Park is the deserving winner for 2016.

  • 06/15/2017 10:15 AM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Recently, Yellow Buses in the Parks funding was able to cover the bus transportation costs so that an entire 4th grade class was able to participate in the Junior Ranger Program at Lake Talquin State Park located in the Tallahassee area of Florida.

    The Florida State Parks Junior Ranger Program provides the opportunity for young people to learn, serve and share our parks' natural and cultural resources.  After completing six core activities the Junior Ranger Pledge is recited and each child receives a Certificate, Member ID Card and the Official Junior Ranger PASSPORT.

    The Junior Ranger Pledge

    "As a Junior Ranger, I promise to protect the plants, animals, water, geological
    features, culture and history of Florida State Parks. I promise to continue to learn
    about parks and share what I have learned with others.”

    Families with children are welcome to participate at any state park that offers the program.  Learn more about the Junior Ranger program and find out which parks participate here.

    And help us get many more kids to Florida State Parks so they may benefit from all the great programs held there.  Busy family lives mean kids may not get to parks as they might like to.  Field trips during the school year ensures more kids will get to the parks.  Teachers are heartedly enthusiastic about bringing their classes to the parks but often the school districts lack the funds to get them there.  With your help Yellow Buses in the Parks can continue to fund field trip transportation costs.  To make your donation go to our website here and specify Yellow Buses.
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