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Paynes Prairie Goes On Without Management

(Don Rhoden/Gary Noel/Wikimedia Commons)
(Don Rhoden/Gary Noel/Wikimedia Commons)

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park has yet to find someone to replace its manager, David Jowers, who retired in April.

It is common for any public agency to go without management while they are transitioning, said Dr. Taylor Stein, professor of ecotourism and natural resources management at the University of Florida. Public managers move in and out all the time.

“The state parks are probably used to transitioning people around,” Stein said. “Payne Prairie's big. They have assistant managers, and I’m sure those folks are handling it well.”

It’s surprising to Stein that it has taken this long to replace the retired manager, but believes it’s with good reason.

“I’d almost rather have agencies wait to get somebody good in as opposed to just throwing a person in there to fill in the spot,” Stein said.

Stein has had his own personal experiences with Paynes Prairie through his research on ecotourism and how visitors relate to natural resources as well as going on field trips there.

Stein says it is necessary for there to be a manager in a state park as big as Paynes Prairie. There can be temporary times of no management, but the park can’t run without it.

“Public agencies transition a lot with managers, so it doesn’t sound like an emergency or even something out of the ordinary to me,” Stein said.

Paynes Prairie is a biologically, geologically and historically unique landmark, Jason Mahon, public information specialist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email.

“Managing this park and its incredible natural resources is very important, which is why we are thoroughly searching for the best possible candidate to fill the position," he added.

Each of Florida’s state parks has a unit management plan that identifies specific management objectives and land uses, Mahon explained.

Changes in the plan, including changes in management, must have received input from the park staff, the public, other state agencies, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory staff, the Department of State’s Division of Historic Resources and local experts. The process of changing any state park management includes holding public hearings that are scheduled after a plan has been drafted and allowing citizens and stakeholders to provide comments through a variety of forms of communication, Mahon said via email.

When asked how long the process will last until changes are made and a new manager is hired, Mahon had no answer.

Robert Steel is currently the interim park manager for Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The Florida Park Service has also recently hired Gerald Powers as the assistant part manager.

The annual salary for park managers at Florida State Parks range anywhere from $34,000 to $69,000.

This story is a part of Untold Florida, a WUFT News series built from your questions.

Brooke Steinberg is a report for WUFT News and can be reached at 352-392-6397 or bsteinberg@ufl.edu.