A Message From Our Director
One of my favorite parts of visiting Florida State Parks is chatting with volunteers. I love their stories, motivation and commitment. To a person, they feel genuinely fortunate to give their time, skills and energy to their favorite parks.
Recently, I watched volunteer Chuck Kirkman interacting with visitors at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Botanical Hammock. Chuck, who along with his wife, Amy, has also served as a repeat volunteer at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and several others, was there in the bright winter sun greeting people and making sure they understood the treasures to be found on a walk through the unique Florida Keys woodland. He seemed so fulfilled and happy to share his knowledge and enthusiasm.
During one park visit, the manager was excited to show me the interior of the ranger station. A volunteer with exceptional woodworking skills rebuilt the walls, counters and shelves with recycled pecky cypress. I was in awe of the craftsmanship and could tell that the staff felt like they were working in a very meaningful place.
Other volunteers serve immediate, humanitarian needs. Look no further than a few hours west of Tallahassee, where several groups of volunteers from the Florida Conservation Corps assisted with hurricane recovery efforts in Pensacola. These individuals saw their fellow Floridians in need and didn’t think twice about answering the call.
Finally, a special group of resident volunteers serves as campground hosts, where they take on everyday park chores such as cleaning bathhouses and maintaining trails. This selfless work allows staff to focus their efforts on resource management and visitor services.
One of my other favorite activities is attending volunteer award and recognition events where we celebrate countless hours of service and outstanding efforts. Before COVID-19, we have had more than 200 people gather regionally to accept our heartful appreciation and receive their awards and pins. The awards and celebrations are sponsored by the Florida State Parks Foundation, which raises funds, publicizes and advocates for state parks.
Park staff members recruit, train and manage volunteers. We put the same emphasis on safety for volunteers as we do our staff. In fact, we recently changed our volunteer uniforms from gray to olive green. Change isn’t always easy, and the new color and casual look took a little getting used to. But when I see someone with that polo or T-shirt on, I know they are happy to be giving their time and talent to making Florida State Parks America’s best. More to the point, they are making their park shine.
I appreciate our park volunteers so much that I dream – after my tenure as director – of becoming one.
We hope you enjoy your next visit. Thank you for supporting Florida State Parks!
Eric Draper, Director