• 02/15/2018 4:32 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Well, actually, in a way it does.  Last year over 32 million people visited Florida State Parks adding $3 billion in direct economic impact to the state’s economy.

    Over the last few weeks, FFSP board members have been to Tallahassee visiting the offices of influential legislators and every senator and representative has been sent a letter pointing out the enormous economic benefit state parks have in their respective districts.

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s top leadership, Secretary Noah Valenstein and Deputy Secretary David Clark, have made several appearances before House and Senate committees.  And, our new Florida Park Service Director, Eric Draper, has worked closely with Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP) leadership to coordinate a significant grass roots campaign.

    It is still too early to say whether the legislature will approve the Florida’s state parks 2018 budget request but, at the time of this writing, things are looking positive thanks to a major cooperative effort by key players.

    Florida’s state parks are one of the state's greatest success stories and continue to be a sound investment.  They contribute mightily to the state’s tourism industry and preserve many of the jewels of our natural environments.  Of course, we all know this, we just need to make sure everyone else does too – and, right now, especially the policy and decision makers.

    So, as we enter the final weeks of this year’s legislative session, we will continue to watch the situation carefully and take appropriate action when we think it necessary.

    The one thing that we all know is that we love our parks with a passion and that they are worth fighting for.

    If you would like to tell your legislators how important Florida State Parks are to you personally, click here.

  • 11/27/2017 12:26 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    One of the best ways we can preserve our fabulous award-winning state parks it to teach our children how wonderful they are and why they need to be protected for their children’s children. That is why Friends of Florida State Parks was proud to take over the LIFE program (Learning in Florida’s Environment) from the Department of Environmental Protection in 2015 and become its statewide administrator.

    LIFE serves many purposes. First of all, it is a model for science-based education on public conservation lands. Each program represents a partnership between Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and a school district to bring students outdoors to learn science.

    The goal of each LIFE Program is increased student achievement and teacher professional development in science education. The LIFE program is not a curriculum, but a process for reinforcing and enriching the existing curriculum through hands-on, field labs facilitated by educators, scientists, rangers and trained volunteers.

    Each LIFE site is tailored to address local priorities and unique environmental issues. This is done in consultation with the school board and science teachers from the participating schools. Students participate in multiple field experiences each year and are exposed to real-world technology careers.

    Another benefit is that most of the students have never been to a state park before and, hopefully, they will persuade their parents to come out and visit as well. We have to engage these young people and help them understand the importance of protecting and preserving our public lands. After all, they will be the next custodians of these precious places.

    They spend a day doing approved science experiments using the parks as open area science labs. More important, they have fun and want to come back.

    For the last year, we have vigorously promoted the LIFE program and we are delighted to report that it is really catching on. We now have over 30 parks offering the program or pledged to start it in the next few months. Our aim is to have 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 $3,000 and $5,000 to supply each park with the scientific equipment it needs – depending on the labs offered. Once the park has acquired the equipment multiple schools can take advantage of it.

    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.

    You can support the LIFE program with a donation here.  Want to volunteer with the LIFE program?  Check with the state parks in your area to see if they already are offering LIFE and if not, you may be able to get it going.  Call 813-586-0681 or write to for information.

  • 11/27/2017 12:08 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    For the past several years, the 4th grade class at Ft. Braden in cooperation with the park rangers at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park and Lake Talquin State Park (Tallahassee area), has incorporated the Florida State Parks’ Junior Ranger Program into its curriculum. 

    The Florida State Parks Junior Ranger Program provides the opportunity for young people to learn, share and serve Florida’s natural and cultural resources.  As part of the Junior Ranger Program, field trips to each of these state parks are arranged to provide the students first hand experiences to better understand how important our natural environment is and to know of Florida’s deep history and past cultures.  By becoming a Junior Ranger, these young people learn how they can help the state park rangers preserve our state park’s natural and cultural resources so that you and other visitors can enjoy them for many years to come. 

    Each student completes 6 core activities.  Upon completion, the class reviews their work with a park ranger, recites the Junior Ranger Pledge and receives a certificate of completion and official Junior Ranger ID card.  The students are eligible to complete additional activities to earn Junior Ranger pins, badges and patches.

    With generous funding from the Friends of Florida State Parks program “Yellow Buses in the Parks Project”, students at Ft. Braden were able to have the field trip transportation costs fully funded.  Without this financial help the programs and field trips would not have been possible.

    To the Friends of Florida State Parks, the students and teachers at Ft. Braden thank you for your support and we look forward to the continued partnership with the Friends of Florida State Parks.

    Julie Baisden
    4th Grade Fort Braden School
    Language Arts

    *Note from FFSP President, Paula Russo:  It’s a team effort that requires caring teachers like Julie Baisden, dedicated park rangers, and the generous people who financially support our programs that get kids into our state parks to learn.  Become part of “the team”!  Make a donation here and designate Yellow Buses.

  • 09/18/2017 1:13 PM | Florida State Parks Foundation (Administrator)

    Monster Hurricane Irma has impacted nearly every state park in the system.  All Florida Park Service personnel and their cadre of experienced trained volunteers are working hard to assess the extent of the damage.  Severe flooding, downed trees, debris, board walks and beach access washed away, and worse. 

    This hurricane was different from any before.  The entire state was affected not just one area.  Parks have suffered greatly from this and it’s going to take a coordinated focused effort and lots of help to get things cleaned up and safe again.

    Of great concern is the interruption of multitudes of children’s education programs.  Every year many thousands of children come to the parks for environmental and historical education programs.  School field trips, Jr. Rangers, interpretive hikes, camp fire programs and so much more are at a dead stand still and will be until our parks reopen and are safe to visit again. 

    100% of all donations large and small will go directly to recovery.  Please help if you can. Donate here.

    Thank you!


    Information Sources:

    Ongoing Updates on which Parks are Open/Closed

    The official Florida State Parks website

    Florida State Parks Facebook page


  • 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.

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