Park Birthday Party

A chalk board that reads "Happy Birthday Gold Head" with an illustration of a birthday cake.

Staff, volunteers and community members gathered recently to celebrate the 80th birthday of Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park.

Before cutting into a big birthday cake, historians and community leaders spoke about the legacy of one of Florida's oldest state parks.  

“At its official dedication in April 1939, Gold Head Branch State Park was the most complete state recreation facility to be developed in Florida,” Florida Park Service Archivist John Turner said.

Why celebrate a park’s birthday? Gold Head Branch is special — it is one of nine state parks that the Civilian Conservation Corps built in Florida in the 1930s. The CCC was a federal work program started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put thousands of young men across America to work on bridges, parks and other public infrastructure.

“The 80th anniversary celebration pays tribute to the people who were instrumental in the original donation of land for the park, like Roswell Penney and Marvin Roess,” Turner said. “It also helps us remember the efforts of Company 2444 of the CCC, composed of World War I veterans, whose skill can still be appreciated in the structures and conservation areas of the park.”

The park gets its name from the Gold Head Branch stream that originates from springs in a deep ravine system within the park. Rolling sandhill and sand pine scrub plant communities provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including fox squirrels and gopher tortoises. The park is also home to one of Florida’s oldest lakes, Sheeler Lake, which formed 24,000 years ago.

Barbara Bradley, president of the non-profit Friends of Gold Head State Park, also spoke at the celebration. Bradley has loved the park since visiting it as a child, and she began working as a park volunteer when she retired.

 “My favorite place in the park is the rolling sandhills with the beautiful wildflowers and wiregrass,” Bradley said. “There were 3,000 people at the original opening for the park in 1939. It’s an important part of the community.”

At the celebration, visitors enjoyed snow-cones, old-fashioned country music, and a display of historic tractors and farm equipment.

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This article was published in the Real Florida ℠ Connection, the Florida State Parks e-newsletter. Sign up to get updates and stories from your state parks the first week of every month.