The Early Years
From the passage of the first state park act in 1925, the legislative intent of the state park system was to acquire lands for the "preservation of natural beauty and historic association." The comprehensive state parks act passed in 1949 set forth the principle that state parks should "emblemize the state's natural values" and conserve them for all time, and that historic sites and memorials should be perpetually preserved.
Natural Resource Management
Nighttime image of a blazing fire with fire staff and pine trees in the 1990s at Cedar Key Scrub Preserve State Park.
The nation's land stewards in the 1930s largely devoted themselves to reforesting lands and restocking fish and game species that had been over-harvested during the previous decades of resource exploitation. The first three decades of the state park system followed this tradition, and the land was "preserved" with aggressive wildfire suppression, including the maintenance of many plowed fire lines. Planting of rows of slash pines and other state tree-nursery stock was typical. Even Australian pines were planted. Dead and diseased trees were regularly removed from woodlands for 'forest health.' There were also water and flood control projects, particularly at Myakka River and Highlands Hammock state parks.
The Florida Park Service's first experimentation with prescribed fire in longleaf pine woodlands started at O'Leno State Park around 1947 through the efforts of Carlos Maxwell. Maxwell was a Florida Forest Service employee at the time O'Leno was transferred to the Florida Park Service in 1941, at which time he was named park superintendent. But O'Leno was largely an isolated case. A major effort in most parks in the 1940s was to conduct flora and fauna inventories, largely through the leadership of staff botanist Carol Beck and staff naturalist William Z. Harmon. They also helped to establish the ethic of nature appreciation in the Florida Park Service through brochures, articles and guided walks focused on the value of the natural resources of the parks.
In the early 1970s, an initiative was launched to develop a system of parks with clear central policy direction and a resulting consistency of both design and management. Under the leadership of the Chief Naturalist, a policy of 'natural systems management,' aimed at restoring and maintaining natural biological communities and processes, replaced the managed-forest practices that had preceded it. Together with the district naturalists first hired in 1969, they started drafting resource management policies and guidelines to help park staff achieve the new goals. The naturalists also worked with park staff in the field to help conduct resource management activities. Under the new philosophy, park rangers gradually removed exotics and off-site species that had been planted in the previous era and focused on restoring native biological communities. The first sanctioned prescribed burn as a resource management tool occurred in 1971 at Falling Waters State Park, with Betty Komarek of Tall Timbers Research Station serving as burn boss. The Chief Naturalist noted: "In time, the shadow and influence of our former sister agency passed. The old-timers retired, new staff were trained under a new philosophy, and new land management policies provided sensitive direction." Over the years to the present, the 'naturalists' became biologists and environmental specialists, and grew in ranks to the current 55 full-time positions. But most of the resource management work was (and is) still done by the Park Ranger, who works on his or her park every day to preserve ...the Real FloridaSM.
A few resource management advancements of the last decade are also historically important. The first was to create recurring line-item funding for resource management activities, starting with exotic plant control in 1998 funds. Then in 1999 land management agencies were allowed to use 'land use proceeds' (from timber sales, for example) for resource management. A third advance was to attempt to eliminate the backlog of prescribed burning. The initiative included adopting better safety standards for training, fitness and experience, increasing budgets for equipment and fire line preparation, establishing regional burn teams and prioritizing the backlog acres. In 2007, the Florida Park Service surpassed one million acres of prescribed fire during the 35-year history of the burn program, and in 2008 set an all-time record by burning over 80,800 acres in a single year.
A fourth state-wide initiative focused on Florida's famous freshwater springs, clearly benefiting the Florida Park Service, which manages 18 state parks with first or second magnitude springs. This resulted in water quality and discharge monitoring in all major springs, as well as funding for wastewater and stormwater retrofits, dye-tracing, springshed determinations, spring bowl restorations, biological inventories, interpretive exhibits and many other projects.
Historic Resource Management
The Gregory House at Torreya State Park on the banks of the Apalachicola River in Bristol.
Historic resource management followed much the same trend. Until the 1960s, historic preservation of resources mainly consisted of inventory, repair and maintenance, but was generally unguided by historic preservation principles. In 1949 and 1950 a multitude of historic sites owned by the state, but managed privately, were transferred to the Florida Park Service. In July 1946, John W. Griffin was appointed as the first State Archaeologist and assigned to the Florida Park Service. During the first two years, his team inventoried about 1,000 archaeological sites and conducted excavations at nine sites by 1948 including Norocco at Tomoka State Park and Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park.
The agency historian conducted research into historic sites in Florida. Along with the State Librarian, he collected some of the early historical information about park historic sites and published articles and books on historical sites managed as state parks. In 1953 the Board authorized another noted Florida historian to conduct an inventory of Florida's historic sites and published a pamphlet with the listing of more than 1,000 sites. This was Florida's first systematic inventory of historic archaeological places.
In 1970, the Florida Park Service signed an agreement with the Florida Department of State for that agency to provide research and consultative support about cultural resources and to assist with exhibit development. Soon after, the Department of State conducted some of the first professional research on several historic sites including Fort Clinch State Park, Koreshan State Historic Site, Fort Foster at Hillsborough River State Park, Gamble Plantation Historic State Park and Indian Key Historic State Park. Also during this time, historic preservation architects began to provide professional consultation on the rehabilitation and restoration of historic buildings in the parks. The earliest work was on Fort Clinch and Gamble Plantation.
In the early 1970s the district naturalists helped provide guidance on historic preservation standards, and increased consultation with the Department of State's archaeological and historic preservation staff. In 1986 a historian was hired to provide internal historic preservation oversight and for a time was supervisor over the operations of all historic sites. The Park Service's Bureau of Natural and Cultural Resources added another historian, an archaeologist and a collections specialist, and the team provided much improved preservation and collections expertise, technical support and training to the field staff.