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Florida State Parks's Unsung Heroes
Litter Cleanup at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park
Florida’s award-winning state parks are the best in the nation and have been recognized as such a record three times.
Last year, Florida’s 171 parks and trails attracted more than 25 million visitors - more than Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. It takes quite an army to run such a huge operation from the officials with the Florida Park Service in Tallahassee down to the managers and rangers at each of the parks.
However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that there is another ‘secret’ army at work which plays a vital role in helping to keep the operation running smoothly. This is the army of volunteers – 27,000 strong – who last year contributed almost 1.4 million hours to state parks.
Those volunteer hours – the equivalent of 666 full-time employees- account for almost two-thirds of the park service’s total full-time manpower, and are a $29.6 million value to the State of Florida.
Many parks also have a non-profit Citizen’s Support Organization (CSO) which apart from providing volunteers also provides direct support which last year totaled more than $2.6 million. This support ranges from providing administrative support and maintenance of park infrastructure, building boardwalks and interpretive displays to organizing educational and environmental events and hosting school visits. It also includes providing visitor services, acting as campground hosts, helping to increase accessibility for all and much more.
While many volunteers interface with the public, many more perform their volunteer duties out of sight. Retired motor mechanics help to keep the park vehicles and equipment running. CSOs often use their funds to buy needed parts or new vehicles, equipment and supplies. Other volunteers work in areas of the park not regularly visited by the public keeping trails open, building new ones, removing exotic and nuisance plants and so on.
Volunteers come from all walks of life and provide the park’s with a treasure chest full of skills. Many have trades and can help erect and repair buildings. Others are skilled educators and interpreters. The one thing they all have in common, however, is their love of our wonderful state parks which is why they all give their time so freely.
So the next time you visit one of Florida’s state parks spare a thought for the volunteers. They may take your entrance fee as you drive into the park, they may lead you on a guided tour or conduct an interpretive program. Or you may never see one at all time because they are busy out of sight working to make your experience a more satisfying one.