A handful of Florida state park volunteers and activists packed tightly into a small light blue room at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee Wednesday to call upon the state legislature for more funding.
The Florida State Parks Foundation, led by Chief Executive Officer Julia Gill Woodward, addressed how the current proposed funding falls sharply below Gov. DeSantis’ proposed $54 million.
Currently, DeSantis’ budget request includes $54 million for land management and $100 million for the Florida Forever fund, according to the Florida State Parks Foundation. The Senate’s proposed budget allocates $15 million for parks. The House has set aside $45 million.
The Florida Forever program previously received about $300 million.
Gil Ziffer, president-elect of the Florida State Parks Foundation, said the payment for state parks is distributed into three parts. One-quarter of the funding goes toward land management like prescribed burns and eliminating invasive species, and another quarter is spent on restoration work. The other 50 percent of the funding goes toward park improvements and maintenance, Ziffer said.
Last year, Florida state parks generated $2.4 billion and created more than 33,000 jobs, according to the Florida State Parks Foundation. The parks require more funding this year because of costly damages from Hurricane Michael and Irma for a combined total of $115 million, Ziffer said.
Jim Stevenson, a former Florida State Park chief naturalist, said there is citizen pressure taking money away from the parks and into hurricane recovery efforts.
“It’s tough because we’re competing against hurricane damage,” Stevenson said. “There’s lots of pressure there.”
Madeleine Carr, one of the founding members of Friends of Wakulla Springs, traveled to Tallahassee early Wednesday morning to advocate for Florida’s state park system. While Carr typically works on documenting the history of Wakulla Springs and giving tours, most of her work requires direct funding from the state, she said.
“The state parks are here to provide a natural oasis in a fast-growing state,” Carr said. “People need to go outside and understand that this state has exquisite natural beauty.”
Correction: Name corrected from Ben Pingree to Gil Ziffer.