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Florida State Parks Celebrates Clean Air Month

 

   
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A Message From Eric Draper

A woman taking a deep breath in front of the text

When walking with people in state parks, I like to point out how clean the air is. Then I tell them that the air is clean because Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection works hard to control and reduce air pollution.

Florida’s air quality was not always as clean as it is today. In fact, my desire to protect our air resources was part of my decision to be a conservation advocate. Just a decade after college, I was honored to participate in a meeting at the White House with President George Bush to discuss the federal Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act was established to protect public health by regulating hazardous air pollutants.

In Florida, DEP administers the Clean Air Act and works to protect and improve Florida air quality, helping ensure Florida’s air is among the cleanest in the nation. Thanks to DEP’s efforts statewide, emissions in Florida continue to improve and are now the lowest they have been on record. These reductions in air pollution has given us more vivid and stunning views of the night sky, leading to two of our state parks receiving certification from the International Dark Sky Association.

May is both Clean Air Month and National Bicycling Month. With that in mind, I hope we can all help conserve energy and reduce air pollution by replacing some car trips with walking or cycling.

DEP, along with the Florida Department of Transportation, is making it easier to use a bike to get around and get exercise. We are working together to expand access to state and local bike trails and encouraging bicycle and pedestrian friendly transportation routes. With trails such as the Cross Florida Greenway, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and the soon to be built Honeymoon Island spur, there are great places and ways to traverse Florida.

So if you see me out there on the road taking my bike to work, understand that I’m doing my part to help keep our air clean. Please keep a safe distance of three feet and give a friendly smile and wave as you pass by. Please be sure to check out Florida’s bicycle friendly parks at FloridaStateParks.org.

-Eric Draper

Learn More About Clean Air Month

 

  Springs Restoration at Lafayette Blue 

A picture of Lafayette Blue Springs State Park with clear water

Florida’s springs are a one of a kind resource. With more than 1,000 springs in the state, they provide a home to plant and animal life, a source of freshwater for rivers and streams and the perfect backdrop for memorable experiences. However, some springs around the state are in need of help. Florida State Parks, along with other Florida Department of Environmental Protection staff, are working collaboratively to improve protection and the health of the state’s springs.

Lafayette Blue Springs State Park in Lafayette County is home to an ongoing restoration project. Florida State Parks District Biologist Anne Barkdoll often monitors Lafayette Blue Springs for algae levels and water clarity. She also looks for ways to improve park management and maintenance processes, as well as redesign structures to minimize impacts to the spring. “We’ve redesigned the parking lot to reduce runoff, altered our mowing practices and planted native vegetation to minimize erosion,” Barkdoll said, “we’re taking steps to improve what we can within the park.”

Florida Department of Environmental Protection is also trying to take proactive steps in Lafayette Blue Springs. The Suwannee River Water Management District has drawn up detailed action plans aimed at establishing healthy water flow and levels. They have worked with local communities to help instill the best groundwater pumping and fertilizer use practices. Most importantly all of Florida DEP is working to shift the focus from short-term fixes to long-term, holistic approaches to ensure the protection of clean and abundant groundwater for the future.

Learn More About Florida's Springs

 

 Audubon Shorebird Protection

A group of Plover's on Ft. Clinch State Park's Beach

Summer in the state of Florida means shorebird nesting season is well underway. Although this time of year brings incredible species of birds, like the American oystercatcher, black skimmer and Wilson’s plover, these species face conservation challenges. Florida’s beaches also experience a lot of recreational use, especially during the summer. Shorebird nests are often built in the shallow sand and can be difficult to see, due to camouflaging. Florida State Parks partners with Audubon Florida to help protect shorebirds. Volunteers monitor shorebird nests, rope off areas to encourage shorebird nesting and rope off nests. Audubon volunteers also serve as ambassadors, educating the community on the importance of shorebirds and how everyone can help protect and conserve the environment.

Sean Cooley of Audubon Florida explained how the group assists Florida State Parks and staff. “Most of our work falls into either conservation or education. A lot of people don’t really understand how sensitive these birds are,” Cooley said. When most people see birds sitting on their eggs, they assume it’s to keep them warm and incubated. On the smoldering Florida coast, it’s the opposite. “People will get too close to nests and the bird will run away out of fear. With those eggs left unattended for just a few minutes, they can get too hot and there won’t be a hatchling.”

While state parks staff continue to protect wildlife and the environment, there are ways that everyone can help while enjoying Florida State Parks. Picking up all your trash on the beach, especially properly disposing of monofilament fishing line, is one way visitors can help reduce their impact. Additionally, they can attend a beach cleanup event in a state park or one of the Audubon’s numerous Bird Counts. The partnership between Audubon and Florida State Parks is one that benefits everyone, and thanks to their dedication, Florida residents and visitors can look forward to seeing incredible species of birds for generations to come.

Learn More About Audubon

 

 
 

 

 

 
 

Dark Skies Around the State

A view of the Milky Way over one of St. George Island's pavilions

Stargazing at Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park in Franklin County has always been outstanding. Located roughly an hour east of Panama City Beach, the barrier island is tucked away on its own isolated oasis. Because it is so far from a major city and has such little light pollution, it has its sights set on earning the Gold Tier Dark Sky Certification, the highest level awarded by the International Dark Sky Association. Getting this designation would list the park among other famous dark sky areas in the association’s database, making it an incredibly desirable camping and stargazing location.


Park Ranger Skip Schipper has spent the past year gathering dozens of light readings with a Sky Quality meter throughout the park and at different times throughout a month. His findings are comparable to already Dark Sky Association certified areas in Arizona. The dark sky is also a reason the island has such a high number of nesting sea turtles. “The night sky is beautiful, but it’s also how newborn sea turtles find their way to the water,” Schipper said.


St. George Island isn’t the only Florida State Park with an amazing night sky. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee County also has a Dark Sky certification and has dazzled stargazers and campers with its views of the Milky Way above the prairie. Stargazing is also a popular activity at T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Gulf County and Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park in Clay County, as well as other parks throughout the state.

Stargaze at a Florida State Park 

 

 
 

A Focus on our Staff 

Ed Perry taking a photo on Sebastian Inlet Beach

“A few weeks ago me and a couple other rangers noticed a sea turtle crawling up the beach.” Ed Perry excitedly told his story, “It was a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, one of the most endangered species of sea turtles in the world.” A moment like this would be incredible for a park visitor, but many people would think that after 29 years of working at Sebastian Inlet State park, Ed would have seen it all by now. But even after all this time, in his own words, “those moments are what make this job exciting to come to every day.”

Ed Perry’s journey as a park services specialist has been one full of adventures, surprises and new experiences. “I always loved Sebastian Inlet. Right when I graduated college, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.” Ed spends a lot of time around the Inlet. Even when he’s not working he enjoys fishing and taking incredible wildlife photos. “The inlet just has so much beauty, there’s nothing like the coast. There's no way to describe it, you just have to be there.”

Around the state, hardworking park rangers, managers, biologists and administrators help offer award-winning outdoor recreational entertainment and access to natural and cultural resources. Thank you to all Florida State Park staff.

   Read More About How You Can Volunteer

 

 
 

 Prescribed Fire Restoration

A Prescribed Fire at Torreya State Park 

In 2011, the state of Florida acquired roughly 7,000 acres of property from the St. Joe Company. The acquisition expanded the borders of Torreya State Park and the park’s immensely critical role in restoring one of the most species-rich habitats in North America. The property is made up of rolling hills with deep ravines, creating microhabitats that provide sanctuary for rare species like the Torreya tree, Florida yew, fire-back crayfish and Apalachicola dusky salamander. Over time, the land had been converted to industrial timberland, so park staff has been hard at work returning it to an ecologically functional longleaf pine/wiregrass system.

Recently, park staff conducted a prescribed fire of 350 acres on the property to promote wiregrass flowering. Following the prescribed burn, which will clear out longleaf pine trees that were used for industrial timber, park staff and partners from The Nature Conservancy will begin harvesting seeds from other areas that have already been restored. Park Biologist Mark Ludlow was at the prescribed burn and has been heavily involved in the Torreya restoration projects.  “This is the largest sandhill restoration project in Florida State Park history, and one of the largest upland habitat restoration projects in the U.S.,” Ludlow explained. “We started with over 5,000 acres of timberland and are now officially over 50 percent completed with the restoration.”

Learn More About Prescribed Fire 

 

 

 

 

Find An Adventure at a Florida State Park! 

 

 

Event DetailsWorld Oceans Day Beach Cleanup  

June 8

Bring the family out to Perdido Key State Park to help the Friends of Pensacola State Parks, Inc. and the Perdido Key Association celebrate World Oceans Day by cleaning up the beach.

  Get event details here

 

Event DetailsSecond Saturday Paddle 

June 9

Take a 90 minute paddle at Hillsborough River State Park and learn about the natural history and communities that make the Hillsborough River unique and important.

  Get event details here

 

Event DetailsTopsail Talks - Living Bear-Wise 

June 15

Join Topsail Hill Preserve State Park staff and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to  learn about the Florida Black Bear and how to "Live Bear-Wise."  

Get event details here

 

 

Event DetailsShelter Dog Pack Walk

June 24

Join Silver Springs State Park Staff in Marion County for a walk with a few well-behaved shelter dogs from Marion County Animal Services. All dogs are available for adoption! 

Get event details here

Event Details Movies and More 2018

June 27

The Friends of Camp Helen State Park and Camp Helen Park staff invite the family to the fifth annual Movies & More series. Come watch “A Bug’s Life” and participate in insect related activities!

Get event details here

 

The Outsiders Club Season 3 debuts this June, check out the TV schedule here 

 

 

 
 

 

 #FLStateParks in the News! 

"Topsail Hill Beach gets a Cleanup" 

"Evening by the Sea boosts Birch State Park" 

"National Bike Month: How to celebrate this May" 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida State Parks Celebrates Its First Trail Town

 

   
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A Message From Eric Draper

A Child splashing in a Spring

The month of April was Springs Protection Awareness Month. Florida’s springs are among the state’s most vital resources. Not only are they home to abundant plant and animal life, a source of fresh water for rivers and streams and an attraction for local economies and state tourism, but they are the backdrop for countless memories. With more than 1,000 springs in the state, and among the largest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth, springs are forever woven into the past, present and future of Florida. Florida State Parks is dedicated to the protection of Florida’s springs through meticulous planning and strong community partnerships. With $50 million approved in funding for springs in the upcoming year, we will continue the state’s record investments.

-Eric Draper

Learn More About Florida's Springs

 

 

  Dunedin Becomes Florida's First Trail Town 

Director Eric Draper Speaking in front of a crowd

Downtown Dunedin was nothing spectacular when I used to visit in the 1970s. It looked like virtually every other town that had paved over most of its green space and was unfriendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. Today, driving, walking or bicycling through Dunedin is a pleasure. Streets are curved and landscaped with a canopy of shade and the Pinellas Trail runs directly through downtown on the former bed of the historic Orange Belt Railway. More than a thousand people a day access Dunedin by trail! This transformation, along with being the home of Honeymoon Island, made Dunedin the perfect choice to be designated by the DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails as the first official Florida Trail Town.


The Trail Town designation tells the nation that Dunedin is one of Florida’s most pedestrian and bicycle friendly cities, as well as a thriving, desirable place to live. It is an ideal partnership between the town and Florida State Parks because we share a goal of people enjoying being healthy outdoor experiences.


As part of that shared goal, we have committed to extending the existing multi-use trail connecting Dunedin to Honeymoon Island State Park by completing a 1.3-mile multi-use trail inside the park. The trail will provide safe access to the park’s beaches and amenities and help reduce traffic congestion and parking at one of Florida’s busiest state parks.


After joining the Dunedin City Commission for the trail town designation, I explored the town and trail by bicycle. What a great experience to see groups of cyclists and walkers and individuals of all ages walking, running and pushing strollers. We commend Dunedin for being bicycle and pedestrian friendly and as Florida’s first Trail Town inspiring other Florida cities to create safer ways to walk and bike to downtowns and state and local parks. 

-Eric Draper

Learn More About This

 

 
 

Earth Day Success 

 A group of Kids posing after their work day

Each year, Earth Day is celebrated by millions of Americans. It brings people together with one common goal: to take care of the planet. Florida State Parks share this mission around the calendar, and Earth Day was no exception. Around the state, 34 different parks hosted 55 Earth Day themed events, ranging from ranger led informational hikes, to volunteer beach cleanups. In addition to these events, over 20 official state park concessionaires pledged to "Skip the Straw" and now either do not carry plastic straws, or only offer them by request. Koreshan and Estero Bay Preserve State Parks had 58 participants at their Global Youth Services Day, where volunteers helped remove exotic bamboo, plant trees, and clean up the Estero River. Topsail Hill Preserve, Bill Baggs Cape Florida, and San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Parks collectively brought hundreds of volunteers out to clean up trash from beaches, trails and other park ecosystems.

See More Park Events

 

 
 
 

 UCF Students Coastline Restoration

A group of UCF Students learn about coastal restoration

A group of UCF students were recently at Tomoka State Park in Volusia County, where they assisted their professor Dr. Melinda Donnelly, as well as Marine Discovery Center Biologist Chad Truxall, on a coastal restoration project. The shoreline in areas of the park has been highly eroded, especially in areas with historic shell midden, or historic dumping mounds, left by Timucuan Indians around the 1600s. These circumstances made coastal restoration efforts in the area particularly important. An event was organized by several UCF undergraduate students, and had more than 90 volunteers total. The volunteers assembled and placed oyster bags, then helped grow and plant needed coastal plants, like mangroves. After a few hours, the students and volunteers had stabilized about 200 feet of shoreline. Suzanne Connor, a graduate student who works with Dr. Donnelly at UCF, was at the event and said “It reflects how many people it takes to make these events successful, and how many people care about Tomoka.”

Learn More About Resource Management 

 

 
 
 

Virtual Field Trips at MacArthur Beach

Two Park Staff Members participate in a Virtual Field Trip

Years ago, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in Palm Beach County, with the help of their Citizen Support Organization (CSO) Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park and the Palm Beach County School District, created the MacBeach Explorations Program. This program is grant funded by the Robert and Mary Pew Public Education Fund, and allows students and teachers an enhanced field trip experience. One aspect of this experience are virtual field trips, which bring the incredible sights of the park’s subtropical coastal habitat into the classroom. Classrooms are also able to videoconference live with park staff, giving students the ability to ask and receive questions from park services specialists, rangers and volunteers. The programs are then recorded and shared with educators, making it possible to show their students anytime. Reaching about 10,000 students every year, the virtual field trip program has provided natural resource education throughout the state.

   Read More About Our CSOs!

 

 
   

Wildfire Awareness Week

A fire burns at Big Talbot Island in front of an interpretive sign

 

This year’s Wildfire Awareness Week took place between April 8 and 14, and marked the 20th anniversary of Florida’s worst wildfire season in 1998. That year approximately half a million acres of land were burned, and more than 300 homes and structures destroyed. Florida State Parks is committed to meticulous burn prevention planning and techniques that have help minimize the damage caused by wildfires. Prescribed Fire is the most practical way to help prevent combustible fuels from accumulating and becoming a threat to an entire ecosystem. Thanks to detailed burn plans and schedules, partnerships with local governments and other agencies, and excellent communication with surrounding communities, Florida State Parks is working hard to help eliminate the threats of wildfires.

Learn More About Prescribed Fire 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

Find An Adventure at a Florida State Park!

 

 

Event DetailsMusic in the Park: Summer Concert Serier with The Grapes of Roth 

May 12

Join us at Anastasia State Park in Flagler County as we host The Grapes of Roth, an energetic classic rock trio. Come enjoy an evening of food, dancing, and music!

  Get event details here!

 

Event DetailsLife as the St. Andrews Hermit

May 16

Join volunteer Judith Scott at St. Andrews State Park in Bay County as we take a trip back in time to uncover the mystery of "Teddy the Hermit," a shipwrecked Norwegian sailor who called the area home for years. 

Get event details here!

Event Details66th Annual Florida Folk Festival

May 25

With the best of Florida’s music, arts and culture there is something for everyone. You’re sure to hear plenty of wonderful music, enjoy tasty food, do a little shopping and pay tribute to Florida’s land, people and diverse cultural heritage 

Get event details here! 

Congratulations to Honeymoon Island State Park for welcoming their 1 millionth visitor of the year!

 

 

 
 

 

 

 #FLStateParks in the News! 

"Half a year after Hurricane Irma, Bill Baggs is focused on a community-minded future" 

"New $13,000 vehicle will get to MacArthur beach patients faster" 

"SCA & SWA Help Turn the Tide at Storm-Damaged Barnacle Historic State Park" 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Florida State Parks Honors its Volunteers

 

   
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A Message From Eric Draper

A graphic featuring an image of people gathered under a pavilion

"Thank you for your continued support of our outstanding state parks!  Now that Spring is finally here, we could use your help reminding people it’s a great time to enjoy the outdoors.  Bring your family and friends to a park near you.  Explore a Florida State Park today!"

 

Wekiwa Springs Serenity Garden

A group helping to clear an area for the Serenity Garden

The construction of a Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Orange County is taking an innovative and exciting approach to expanding access and enhancing the park experience for visitors with diverse abilities and special needs. Florida State Parks is partnering with the Wekiwa Wilderness Trust, a nonprofit, volunteer group, to build the garden utilizing the American Therapeutic Horticultural Association’s design principles for therapeutic and enabling spaces. “Nature heals the mind, body, and soul. While everyone deserves to be provided opportunities to be in nature, for many, physical obstacles in the environment preclude their access to nature,” said Dr. Amy Wagenfeld, occupational therapist, award-winning author and one of the project’s partners. “I see the Wekiwa Spring Serenity Garden as being the model project for all other state and national parks.”

                                   Learn More About the Serenity Garden

 
 

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail Maintanance 

 A group picture of Florida State Park Staff after a work day

Staff at Lignumvitae, Bahia Honda and Long Key State Parks recently teamed up to maintain the incredible The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. Together the team helped mow, weed, clear trails, trim coconut palms and perform other important maintenance to keep the pristine multiuse trail in top shape. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is an impressive trail, stretching more than 100 miles, from Key Largo to Key West. The trail boasts 90 linear miles of paved trail that is excellent for cycling, running, roller blading and even has plenty of points to launch a kayak or canoe. The dedication shown in the trail management is a firsthand example of how Florida State Park staff is committed to providing award winning natural recreation.

Learn More About Resource Management

 
 
 

 Haz-Mat Recycling Day Success

Hazardous Materials and Waste tires collected at Topsail Hill Preserve

The staff at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Walton County helped the county host a successful Solid Waste Recycling and Tire Amnesty Day. The park was one of two locations in the county for residents to drop off hazardous materials like pesticides, used oil, paint thinners and other chemicals that would be incredibly harmful in a landfill. Residents were also able to bring in old, unusable tires. More than 150 vehicles carrying about 200 people participated at the park’s collection, and county officials were able to take loads of environment harming chemicals to be properly recycled. Walton County is not the only partner Topsail Hill Preserve has team up with to help clean up the community. Volunteers, the Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Florida Forest Service, and others consistently assist us to improve the health of Florida's ecosystems! 

See More Park Events 

 
 
 

Volunteer Appreciation Awards

A group photo of Eric Draper with Volunteer Award Recipients

Florida State Parks is honoring its incredibly vital volunteers this month with 5 district award ceremonies. Nearly 40 award recipients were selected across the state in various categories to honor individual achievements, group projects, Citizen Support Organizations and other outstanding volunteer performances. The award recipient’s accomplishments were widely ranged, and included giving exceptional service while leading tours; cleaning up post hurricane trash on a beach, just as sea turtles were about to lay their eggs; planning an exceptional cultural event that brought incredible numbers of visitors into the park; and multiple 20+ year service awards. Florida State Parks wants to give a huge thank you to the more than 14,400 volunteers and 83 Citizen Support Organizations that make Florida’s parks one of a kind!  For all the details, check out the Florida State Parks webpage.

   Read More About Our Volunteers!

 
   

Getting the Job Done at Jonathon Dickinson State Park

A prescribed fire burning at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

 

Park Staff at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Martin County recently completed a 200 acre prescribed fire. To help gain some firsthand experience, a group from a week long Basic Wildland Firefighter Class was in attendance for the fire. The prescribed fire was considered “technical,” meaning there were structures, roads, and homes nearby. However, through meticulous planning, park staff were able to accommodate these factors and complete a successful prescribed fire. “Currently, we are in the middle of the dry season and some folks locally are getting anxious about the threat of wildfire,” Rob Rossmanith, the park’s Environmental Specialist said. He was among the 12 trained and skilled staff involved in the prescribed fire.  “Multiple years of planning, good line preparation, and skillful execution of this prescribed fire led to a successful burn.”  This is just another way Florida State Parks are using good fires to prevent bad ones.

Learn More About Prescribed Fire 

 
 
 

 

Find An Adventure at a Florida State Park!

 

Event Details First Friday Garden Walks

April 6

Come out to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park in Flagler County for a Ranger guided tour of our Historic District and Gardens. Learn about the history of Washington Oaks, while taking in the beauty of the Gardens.

 Get event details here! 

 

Event DetailsTarkiln's 20th Anniversary 

April 14

Join us at Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park in Escambia County and celebrate 20 years of protecting, preserving, and enjoying the park. There will be educational interpretive displays and ranger guided nature hikes at 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. 

Get event details here! 

Event DetailsClean-up Day

April 21

Join the Friends of Ichetucknee Springs State Park for a day of giving back in Columbia County. helping to clean up trash and debris around Dampier's Dock 

Get event details here! 

Be sure to check Facebook April 5th for a special deal on camping!

 

 

 
 

 

 

 #FLStateParks in the News! 

"Sarasota fifth-graders become wildlife biologists for a day“ 

"Vote for Caladesi Island State Park" 

"Dallas named Volunteer of the Month"