Thursday, March 19, 2009

DEP offers mid-week closures of 58 state parks


Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

By Bruce Ritchie
Visitors to 58 Florida state parks could see closed gates three days a week under a budget-cutting proposal requested by Senate leaders.

Facing possibly a $6.5 billion deficit in fiscal 2009-10, the Senate asked some state agencies to offer ways to cut their operating budgets 20 percent. That would help shield health care and education from deeper cuts, said Sen. Carey Baker, chairman of the Senate Committee on General Government Appropriations.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposed $88 million in budget cuts, including $2.2 million saved by closing from Tuesday to Thursday those parks that lack campgrounds and cabins. A list of the parks is provided below.

"I could truly see a family taking the day off to go to enjoy a state park in the middle of the week and finding it closed," DEP Secretary Michael Sole said. "That would be truly disappointing."

He said the department would work to inform the public if the reductions are approved in the 2009-10 state budget.

As part of a budget exercise last fall, DEP had proposed closing 19 state parks but faced an outcry from local communities. In his proposed budget for next year, Gov. Charlie Crist proposed an increase in entrance fees of $1 per vehicle to raise $7.2 million.

Sole and other agency representatives outlined their proposed cuts Thursday during a meeting of the Senate Committee on General Government Appropriations.

"Such a somber meeting we're having today," said the usually-witty Baker, a Republican from Eustis.

There was no reaction to the proposed park closures from committee members. But Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said the fee increase would be significant for families. Park entrance fees now range from $3 to $5.

"It is affordable, but it's not a cheap adventure," he said.

Other possible cuts also would significantly affect DEP operations, Sole said. They include eliminating all of the seasonal positions at Florida parks, effectively reducing by half the 1,063 state park employees. Another 20 permanent park positions would be cut for a combined savings of $3.7 million.

DEP, with 3,574 employees, overall would lose 213 jobs or 6 percent of its workforce to meet the 20-percent reduction, Sole said.

The department also proposes eliminating its Florida Springs Initiative to save $2.4 million, cutting nearly $10 million from two underground petroleum storage tanks cleanup programs and cutting $1.6 million from its environmental crimes investigations. And $600,000 to administer beach sand replacement projects would be cut, significantly slowing the pace of beach restoration.

Sole said Florida could lose the 50 percent federal match in beach restoration dollars if the state doesn't contribute to those projects.

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said the beach program provides a boost to the state's tourism economy. And Sole said every dollar spent on beaches produces about $8 for the economy, as well as reducing property damage from storm waves.

But Baker, the committee chairman, said those projects had received $30 million a year from the documentary tax stamp on real estate transactions. But that revenue is estimated at $800,000 next year amid the economic slowdown.

"We built a funding source on shifting sands," Baker said. "And those sands washed away -- completely went out to sea."

Photo courtesy of the state Division of Parks and Recreation. Text copyright by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com

Here is the list of parks being considered for closing and reduced hours of operation

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park LEON
Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park POLK
Atlantic Ridge State Park MARTIN
Avalon State Park ST LUCIE
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park MIAMI-DADE
Big Shoals State Park HAMILTON/COLUMBIA
Camp Helen State Park BAY
Cedar Key Museum State Park LEVY
Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park CHARLOTTE
Colt Creek State Park POLK
Constitution Convention Museum State Park GULF
Crystal River Archaeological State Park CITRUS
Crystal River Preserve State Park CITRUS/LEVY
Dade Battlefield Historic State Park SUMTER
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park MONROE
De Leon Springs State Park VOLUSIA
Deer Lake State Park WALTON
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park COLLIER
Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park ALACHUA
Dudley Farm Historic State Park ALACHUA
Dunns Creek State Park PUTNAM
Estero Bay Preserve State Park LEE
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park COLLIER
Florida Nature and Heritage Tourism Center HAMILTON
Fort Cooper State Park CITRUS
Fort Pierce Inlet State Park ST LUCIE
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park MONROE
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park CITRUS
Honeymoon Island State Park PINELLAS
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park BROWARD
Ichetucknee Springs State Park COLUMBIA/SUWANNEE
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park PALM BEACH
John Gorrie Museum State Park FRANKLIN
Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at
Gamble Plantation Historic State Park MANATEE
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park OKEECHOBEE/OSCEOLA
Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park LEON
Lake June-In-Winter Scrub State Park HIGHLANDS
Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park JEFFERSON
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park MONROE
Lovers Key State Park LEE
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park ALACHUA
Paynes Creek Historic State Park HARDEE
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park HOLMES/WALTON
Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park DUVAL
Ravine Gardens State Park PUTNAM
Rock Springs Run State Reserve ORANGE/LAKE/SEMINOLE
San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park WAKULLA
Savannas Preserve State Park MARTIN/ST LUCIE
St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park MARTIN
St. Marks River State Park JEFFERSON/LEON
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park BREVARD/INDIAN RIVER
Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park ESCAMBIA
Terra Ceia Preserve State Park MANATEE
Wacasassa Bay Preserve State Park LEVY
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park FLAGLER
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park PASCO
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park MONROE
Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park SANTA ROSA

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is one of the 58 parks wich will suffer mid-weeks closures if nothing is done. After all the operation expenses, this park still brings revenue to the state of Florida of over $200,000.00 every year. Just the 2 concession restaurants that operate inside this park make over $2 million a year of which the state gets a percentage in commission and yet they want to close this park three days a week to cut expenses or in this case they mean "revenues"?
I guess the DEP directives are not using common sense.... let's close some of the most highly visited parks just because they don't have campground....Bill Baggs Cape Florida was the second most visited State park last year....and again they want to close it three days a week. Let's see what our visitors who like to come and enjoy our park every day think about this great idea.
It just makes no sense that if what the State is looking for is to cut down in expenses they are going to close a park that brings in revenues...very contradicting. If cuts need to be done they need to be organized in a financially prioritized way not just by parks having a campground or not. That is a very broad, and not very smart proposal because it leaves parks that give in losses open and closes the few ones that bring in revenue.

Bruce Ritchie said...

Thanks for your comments and for the information. I hope other readers will weigh in with their reactions to local parks being closed -- if the cuts are approved by the Legislature.

Anonymous said...

The state parks were never intended to be revenue generating institutions. They were established 75 years ago for the health and well being of the people and to protect representative samples of Florida for generations to come. The revenue currently supports 54 percent of operating costs which is not bad, but increased pressures to generate revenue undermine their purpose. I read today that California is proposing to sell San Quentin prison to private developers for the valuable oceanfront land it sets on. Is that the next step for Florida? Sell some state parks or military bases to feed the greed of developers? The parks are experiencing record attendance numbers and revenue generation this year, most likely due to the slowed economy and people staying local (where else can you take a family of eight for less than five dollars?). The economic impact of state parks in the surrounding communities pushes 1 billion dollars annually. The parks have some of the most dedicated but over worked and under paid employees around, many of whom qualify for food stamps. If the people of Florida have to decide between their parks and their childs teacher or grandmas check-up, of course they would choose the latter, but wouldn't a day learning in a state park with your child or a nice stroll through the woods with grandma be just as valuable? Stand up for the parks and tell your legislator to support tourism and fund the parks. Your health and local economy will benefit.

Anonymous said...

Our legislators need to start making some tough choices. On the list of parks slated to have reduced hours and being closed several days a week are several parks that operate at a profit. Honeymoon Island State Park has been the most visited State Park in Florida the last three years, with attendance in 2008 of over 1 million visitors. This park netted nearly $1 million in the last fiscal year. It's direct economic impact to the local area was over $47 million. This money provided over 900 jobs to the local area. During these times, when people are losing their jobs and businesses are closing down, how can our lawmakers consider making such cuts. They need to start looking at this as a business. When corporations have divisions that are making money and those that are not they do not cut back on the moneymakers, they encourage them to prosper. In these tough economic times the folks in Tallahassee need to start thinking about what is working and what is not working. Trim the fat where it exist but leave the rest to encourage our state to prosper

Padlmore said...

Not all of the benefits of our wonderful state park system revolve around the funds that they generate but how they enrich the lives of the people that visit them. Our state parks are places where people go to get back with nature and see all of the natural beauty Florida has to offer.
Many people end their busy days taking a stroll down a nature trail or walking the many beaches that make up state parks. They are places where people go to clear their heads after dealing with the stresses of everyday life. Florida's state parks offer our seniors a place to get out and exercise, to contribute as volunteers and to enjoy their golden years. Many of them picked the particular location to retire because there was a state park nearby.
Our state parks provide a location for so many families to get close to one another. There are weddings, family picnics, birthday parties and even memorial services that bring families to our parks and tighten a bond that is lacking with so many families. There are family camping trips and fishing trips where parents have the opportunity to teach their children a love and respect for our environment in our our state parks. Our parks provide a place for children to learn new skills and hobbies that they carry with them for life and will teach their children. How many children have learned to swim, fish, canoe and hike in our parks.
It will be a sad day when we have to tell our children you cannot go to the park today it is after 5 o'clock, they are closed. It will be a sad day when we tell our senior citizens you cannot go to the park today for your daily walk because it is Tuesday and they are closed. It will be a sad day when a family that has traveled to Florida for a few days of vacation cannot get into the park that they traveled to see because it is Wednesday and they are closed.
Sure the park service needs to cut back in some areas, just like the rest of our state agencies, but most of our parks need to be open every day and the hours need to remain the same. They need to be staffed to provide the services that we have come to expect. We need to cut back on waste and expenditures that are not absolutely necessary at this time. Some of our underutilized parks need to be closed and put in a care taker status, but this list includes many of the most visited parks because there is no camping or cabins.
We have the best state park system in the country and the awards to prove it. The Florida State Parks enrich our lives in so many ways. It would be a terrible thing to accept the closures that have been proposed.

Bruce Ritchie said...

Thanks for the comments. Keep 'em coming... It occurs to me that Ichetucknee Springs State Park is quite busy on summer week days.

Anonymous said...

I will lose my position as I am an OPS toll collector. I want everyone to know that the field level is not where the cutbacks need to come from. Our average salary is $20K per year. Do you really think that will help anything? The average and most cost effective way to cutback will come from the Central and District Level of DEP. They are trying to save all of those positions. We need to ask Mike Sole why there are 3, 4 and 5 people in said offices that are doing the work it takes 1 person to do. Travel has been cut and yet those positions are still being filled and all they are able to do is sit on their thumbs. If I can see this, why can't anyone else. Our park brings in nearly 1.6 million dollars and they want to cut our staff by half. We were the number 2 park in Florida a couple of years ago and remain in the top 5 now. Do they not understand that TOURISM is the #1 industry here? Our rangers and ops staff are the front line employees that make it all happen. Are the Directors and Bureau Chiefs going to get their soft manicured hands dirty by helping and cleaning bathrooms and pulling garbage bags? I bet not.

Bruce Ritchie said...

Thanks for the comments. I need to follow up on where this issue is in the proposed House and Senate budgets.

Bruce Ritchie said...

DEP Secretary Mike Sole told me on Wednesday that the plan to close the 58 state parks during mid week had not been accepted by the House and Senate -- "thankfully" he added.