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Florida Greenways & Trails Foundation, Inc.  (FGTF) is our sister statewide organization, which aims to advocate for and help create a statewide system of trails and greenways to advance health, recreation, transportation and tourism.

Long Term Planning and Restoration of Florida State Parks

By Mark Milligan, President, F4 Tech

There is no question that Florida’s State Parks system is among the very best in the nation, winning the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park Management an unprecedented three times. Florida’s parks are a significant attraction, showcasing The Real Florida and providing a multitude of recreational opportunities that invite millions of visitors each year.

Florida’s state parks and trails welcomed more than 31 million visitors during fiscal year 2014-2015 -- a 15 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. The overall direct impact to the state’s economy was more than $2.8 billion, which is an impressive 40 percent increase over the previous time period.

Tourism numbers continue to break records in the Sunshine State over the past several years. The latest numbers provided by VISIT FLORIDA show that 29.8 million visitors traveled to Florida during the first quarter of 2016, which is a 4.8 percent increase over the same period in 2015. VISIT FLORIDA is also projecting this trend will continue throughout 2016, with tourism reaching a record 115 million visitors.

With so many visitors to our fine state, and by logical extension to our state parks and trails, it is important that proper care and management of the diverse lands and habitats found in Florida State Parks remain a priority. The Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service is implementing a Long Term Planning and Restoration Initiative to help achieve its goal of restoring more land into a more natural, less labor-intensive maintenance condition

This initiative is made possible by the record funding for land management included in the Florida First Budget signed by Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature. As part of this initiative, Florida State Parks staff is working to enhance current land management practices and use more sophisticated technology, data and tools to better manage and protect lands not just now, but long into the future.

This approach was referred to in the November 2015 version of this newsletter (Friends of Florida State Parks) and was headlined with an article entitled “Green for Green”. The article stated that “We need to be investing both to manage and maintain existing Florida’s public lands so that they continue to be the nation’s showcase of what a state park system should be…”.

To help move forward with this endeavor and to enhance efforts underway by parks biologists and staff, the park service is partnering with F4 Tech, an industry leader in natural resource management. Below is a brief summary of the kinds of tasks that are currently underway:

  • Long-Term Planning – Florida State Parks is utilizing F4 Tech to develop an ecosystem-scoring guide to help the park service better direct the optimum allocation of resources and tasks for environmental management and restoration. F4 is assisting by mapping and inventorying above-ground vegetation on hundreds of thousands of acres of state park lands, and compiling this data for park service staff.
  • Restoration – Florida State Parks and F4 Tech are currently partnering on 20 projects covering approximately 50,000 acres across 15 state parks and DEP’s Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. These projects primarily consist of invasive/exotic species control, but also include prescribed burning, timber thinning and harvests for restorative purposes and ecosystem restoration projects. F4’s team may soon be helping parks staff implement an additional 70 projects covering another 50,000 plus acres and 40 parks in the near future.

As stated in the previously mentioned Green for Green article, there is a great need to protect and restore our state park lands, and by making significant, yet wise investments in data collection and long-term planning we are doing just that. The Florida Park Service is proud to partner with F4 Tech and other cooperators, including Natural Resource Planning Services, Atkins, Nobles Consulting Group and the University of Florida to ensure that Florida’s state parks remain the best in the nation and that they continue to protect and showcase The Real Florida for our future generations.

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