Unless you have lived through a direct hit from a hurricane it is hard to grasp the extent of the devastation and destruction caused, even after seeing dramatic images on television.

When Hurricane Michael struck the Panhandle last month, park rangers from around the state assembled in strike teams and were sent to help the recovery. Even they were staggered at the damage caused both in physical and human terms. That is why the Florida State Parks Foundation was honored to step in and make available a $50,000 hardship fund for those most affected by the disaster.

As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, recovery is a long process. It starts immediately by providing emergency help to people who have lost everything – their homes, their vehicles, their personal possessions.

The next phase involves clearing roads and campgrounds, making buildings safe, getting equipment up and running again, and doing whatever else is needed to reopen parks to visitors again. This is where the Florida Park Service’s staff and army of volunteers plays such a crucial role, and this is what is happening right now at many of the worst hit parks in the panhandle.

The final stage, which can often take years, is to restore the habitat to its original state, to repair damaged buildings, many of them historic, and to try to find the funding to do all this. Recovery is not just a very long process, it is an extremely costly one.

That is why, as we near year’s end, the Foundation is asking all its members and friends to help in any way they can. It can be a donation, no matter how big or small. It may be the offer of time to assist as a volunteer in the clean-up or work alongside rangers in the many other tasks to be done.

And, please remember that end of the year charitable gifts are tax deductible and can do so much good. You can go to the Foundation donation page by clicking here.

You can also go the Florida State Park website to learn more about the massive recovery effort. It is worth quoting here the words of Warren Poplin, bureau chief of FPS District 1 which covers all the most seriously hit parks:

“I know that many of our park service family are curious to the status of us here in District 1. We have several staff that have suffered impacts from the storm. The damage ranges from total loss, to limbs on roofs. The devastation is surreal when observed in person, photos do not capture the full spectrum of the destruction. Some of our staff reside in Lynn Haven, Panama City, Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Marianna, Sneads, Bristol, and all points in between. Some lived in the parks and others nearby. 

I am so impressed by our community and park service family. I am proud to be part of the Florida Park Service and to work with such dedicated, compassionate people. Staff from surrounding parks and locations have stepped up by providing assistance with tarping, laying shingles, removing trees and limbs from roofs. The support from the other districts is nothing less than amazing. The strike team members have volunteered to be away from their families, comforts of home, and familiar surroundings to be displaced, some without A/C or the ability to shower. The work that they are doing is extremely difficult, and they are putting in many hours. Their effort to help us get our parks back open is nothing less than amazing. They will be coming home with many stories of the work they have done and the devastation they have observed.  

Those of us that live in the affected areas have learned how dependent we have become on fresh water, electricity, A/C, and communications. Services are slowly coming back.

Thank you all for thinking of us, we are looking forward to rebuilding and opening our parks for our visitors.”  

With your help we can help the park staff most in need and get the parks up and running – and open again. Please do whatever you can to assist.

Thank you.

Don Philpott, Executive Director

About the Author: Foundation Staff