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FL DEP Proposal to use State Parks to Generate Revenue

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Image: Park Service Logo, floridastateparks.org

On Feb. 13, a group of activists, concerned citizens and speakers gathered at Wekiwa Springs State Park to protest a Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposal to use state parks to generate revenue. It was one of many similar protests held in state parks around the state.

There’s currently a plan on the table to allow hunting, as well as increased cattle grazing and timbering in state parks because, according to DEP secretary Jon Steverson, the parks could be doing more to earn their keep. According to Gov. Rick Scott’s office, state parks attracted about 27.1 million visitors in 2014 and they generate “nearly $2.1 billion in direct economic impact” for the state. But that’s not enough. Now the state is exploring the expansion of the limited commercial activities conducted in the parks now.

Although Steverson says this isn’t an attempt to turn the parks into “profit centers,” he wants them to generate another $20 million in revenue per year to fully cover their operating budgets. To date, that sum was originally underwritten by the state. This troubles activists and environmentalists who see it as an attempt to rent out park space and natural resources to the highest bidders.

State park managers would oversee the commercial activities conducted in parks, but Steverson says private contractors would be employed to handle some of the work.

Interestingly, according to a recent story in Sarasota magazine, there’s a proposal afloat to waive state park admission for a year beginning July 1 – although it sounds like a nice plan, and the bill’s sponsor claims it’s an effort to draw more visitors to the parks, concerned critics say it’s just a tactic to reduce income from the parks so the state can later force them to take on money-making activities.

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