Tis the Season of Giving

Over the last few years Friends groups supporting Florida’s state parks have donated millions of dollars for projects ranging from a multi-million dollar, state of the art education center to carrying out essential building repairs and from trail maintenance to sponsoring school visits.

As Friends of Florida State Parks we constantly struggle to raise funds to help our cash-starved parks. Just a few of the projects funded in our parks in the last year have included installing new interpretive panels at a visitor center, creating environmentally friendly landscaping, replacing observation desks, replacing the flagpole at a Civil War cemetery and improving children’s playgrounds.

Every year we make grants to local schools who want to visit their local state park but don’t have the funds available to pay for the buses to transport them. We pay for their transportation costs and this year for the first time we have paid for some of the equipment they need for their lessons in the park. That equipment is a valuable resource that the park staff can use for years to come to help educate our young people about their wonderful environment.

One of our top goals is to make every state park in Florida an open air classroom where children can learn through the experience of being in the great outdoors. In addition to school trips, our Friends groups and volunteers presented more than 14,000 educational and environmental programs for visitors in 2014.

In a recent survey we asked Florida’s 174 award-winning parks and trails to let us known what accessibility projects were needed in order to make them truly accessible to all. After reviewing their responses and adding up their numbers, we discovered we would need at least $1 million to tackle all the accessibility projects on the list – and that is only the projects they felt were at the top of the queue.

We want to ensure that all guests to our parks, whether they be children, locals or visitors from out of state, have a great and memorable experience. When you are dealing with 26 million plus visitors a year that is no small challenge.

It means ensuring that facilities are kept clean and well maintained, that signage is clear, that trail maps are available and that all the other thousand and one things that have to be done are done. Managing and maintaining Florida’s parks is like running a major corporation. It would not be possible without the 30,000 Friends and volunteers who last year contributed more than 1.4 million volunteer hours – the equivalent of 666 fulltime park jobs.

Every dollar we raise goes back into the parks and helps fund much needed projects. If we had twice as many dollars or ten times as many, we would be able to achieve so much more. So at this time of giving thanks for all our blessings, please spare a thought for our wonderful parks and consider a year’s end tax deductible donation which can do so much good.

Thank you.

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