Florida State Parks 75th Anniversary Logo

Planning and Development History

Design in the Beginning

The spring at Wekiwa Springs State Park, one of the first state parks purchased using the Land Acquisition Trust Fund dedicated to purchase of environmentally sensitive lands.

The spring at Wekiwa Springs State Park, one of the first state parks purchased using the Land Acquisition Trust Fund dedicated to purchase of environmentally sensitive lands.

The task of building state parks by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) required planning and design, but there were few models for the development of state parks at the time. In 1933 the National Park Service Branch of Planning and Design was assigned the task to assist the states in planning and the management of construction. By 1937 two landscape architects, Emmitt Hill and Walter A. Coldwell, National Park Service employees, were stationed in Tallahassee, and were tasked with completing designs for the parks and associated buildings.

Park Facilities and Structures (1935) and Park and Recreation Structures (1938), published by the National Park Service, influenced the specific buildings erected in Florida's state parks. The philosophy behind these designs was to create buildings as un-intrusive as possible and to use local materials. The result included the use of cypress tree trunks to support picnic shelter roofs at O'Leno and Hillsborough River state parks; limestone in structures at nearly all the parks, most importantly at Florida Caverns, and palm logs in the cabins and shelters at Myakka River State Park.

Construction of park facilities came to a halt when all the CCC camps in Florida closed because of World War II. By that time, 26 buildings and 38 other structures had been designed and built in parks. In 1941, the Florida Park Service assumed responsibility for park design and construction. Emmitt Hill and W. A. Coldwell transferred to the Florida Park Service to continue their work. Until the mid-1940s all state park design work was handled by staff architects and draftsmen, but in 1946, the new development for Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, including picnic facilities and a contact station, became the first to be designed by contract architects. However, the decade of the 1940s was a time when little state funding was allocated for state park construction.

The Board of Parks and Historic Memorials

The memorial at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park.

The memorial at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park.

The establishment of the Board of Parks and Historic Memorials in 1951 and the support of then-Senator Leroy Collins created an opportunity for the second significant period of construction and development in state parks. In 1951 the new park board proposed a 10-year, $9.1 million capital improvement budget to develop 21 state parks, 60 wayside stations and 75 recreational areas. In the 1950s, $2.1 million was appropriated and small amounts of federal funding for construction were obtained as well.

The new funding resulted in new entrance stations, picnic facilities, campgrounds, two new museums and extensive repairs to the CCC buildings that were exhibiting signs of age. Routine construction projects continued to be handled by in-house design staff. Large scale park development such as at Tomoka, Hugh Taylor Birch and the Talbot Islands state parks were all designed by private architectural firms in the local community. Park design during this era shifted from the traditional heavy timber construction and frame buildings in the older CCC parks to mid-century modern designs, particularly in the major projects contracted to private firms.

In 1962 the park board proposed extensive expansion of central office and park staff and increased funding. They requested $5,000,000 in construction funds for each biennium from 1963-73. Their request also included expansion of design staff to nine and the creation of a Division of Design and Construction. This plan was finally instituted in the early 1970s with the creation of the Bureau of Acquisition and Construction, the precursor of the present Bureau of Design and Construction. While never enough, construction budgets have seen steady increases over the years to more than $30 million in recent times. Since the 1960s, many standard park buildings are handled in-house and park development master plans are created in-house, while most major construction projects are contracted to private design and construction firms following Division specifications.

Florida Outdoor Recreation Committee

Manatees seek refuge each winter in the warm (72 degrees) waters of Blue Spring State Park.

Manatees seek refuge each winter in the warm (72 degrees) waters of Blue Spring State Park.

One of the great legacies of the New Deal and the influence of the federal government was the imposition of planning on state governments. The Park, Parkway and Recreation Area Study law passed in 1936 by Congress directed the National Park Service to develop a master study and plan for recreation at the federal and state levels. In Florida the result was the publication of the Park, Parkway and Recreational Area Study and Forest Resources Survey for Florida in 1939. The study set out the criteria for the selection of new park lands, made recommendations for the need for recreation facilities and suggested needed legislation. The report also addressed the need for additional lands for public schools, development of waterways for recreational boating, development of facilities and studies to support sustainable hunting and fishing, and even development of a state library system.

It would not be until 1962 that a second study of this kind was produced by the Florida Park Service and the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation of the Department of the Interior. One result of the 1962 study was the creation of the Outdoor Recreation and Conservation Act adopted by the Florida Legislature in 1963. These plans recognized a need for geographical balance in the state park acquisition program, but since most parks had been obtained through donation or agency transfer, it had been difficult to achieve. Parks tended to be concentrated in the northern part of the state and away from the urban centers. The state's new outdoor planning and acquisition program under the Outdoor Recreational Development Council promised to change that.

In 1963 the legislature created the Florida Outdoor Recreation Committee to develop a statewide recreation plan for the acquisition and development of public recreation areas. The Outdoor Recreational Development Council, comprised of the Governor and Cabinet, was also created and charged with directing acquisition of lands for public recreation, essentially new state parks. This was the precursor to the state's aggressive land acquisition efforts including the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL), Preservation 2000 and Forever Florida programs. The Council produced its first plan in 1965, Interim Plan For Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Development In Florida. This plan was the first which was produced by Florida without major direction from the National Park Service. It was a requirement for the state to access newly available federal grants from the Federal Land and Water Program, which continues today under much reduced funding.

Planning for individual state parks was a need from the first CCC parks. At first plans consisted of development maps which outlined placement of roads and facilities in the parks. Landscape architects employed by the National Park Service in the 1930s completed such plans for state parks. During the 1940s and 1950s the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Florida Park Service, produced short narratives to accompany the park master plans. These narratives addressed the natural features, cultural resources and land use for each state park. The Florida Park Service continued to produce master development plans when it assumed the role of park planning with its own landscape architects. Starting in 1985, state land managers were required by the legislature to produce land management plans (called Unit Management Plans ). These master plans included maps and narrative descriptions of natural and cultural resources, existing infrastructure and proposed development, as well as providing resource management objectives. At first these plans had to be approved every 10 years, then every five years for a while and now back to 10 years.

Park Planning Today

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail stretches 170 miles from White Springs to the town of Suwannee at the Gulf of Mexico. Every ten miles, paddlers can expect to find a state park, river camp or hub to spend the night.

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail stretches 170 miles from White Springs to the Gulf of Mexico.

Today's state parks represent 75 years of planning both for the visitor and for the environment. Much of the early development of the system we enjoy today is due to the high standards and traditions established by the historic association with the National Park Service. That influence continues to this day in the thoughtfulness, environmental sensitivity and creativity of the present day planning and development of the Florida State Parks.