Park Volunteers Help Preserve Florida’s Heritage
Every year, Florida’s state parks and trails attract millions of visitors. They return again and again, drawn by the beauty and history of the real Florida and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
An appreciation for these natural places inspires many people to become volunteers who, in turn, help other visitors enjoy Florida parks.
Thousands of volunteers play a vital role in preserving the state’s natural and cultural heritage. They perform an array of tasks, from office and maintenance work to guiding park tours.
The official volunteer program was formalized in 1977 when the Florida Legislature provided workers’ compensation and liability protection to volunteers working in state agencies. The latest annual report shows that more than 29,300 volunteers provided 1.36 million service hours for many of the 174 state parks, trails and historic sites.
Recent volunteer projects include a mangrove planting session at Sebastian Inlet State Park. Forty-six volunteers from the Florida Institute of Technology worked with two Florida Conservation Corps members to plant 50 red mangroves, coastal shrubs that protect shorelines and provide shelter for marine life.
More than 31 million people visited Florida’s state parks and trails in fiscal year 2014-15. The park experience is made more rewarding by the hard work of all kinds of volunteers with all types of skills. Individual adult and youth volunteers are welcomed, as are community and business groups.
Florida State Parks – the nation’s only three-time gold medal winning park system – are also fortunate to receive support from a network of friends groups, known as citizen support organizations (CSOs). Eighty-four CSOs support individual state parks and groups of parks while two organizations support our system of parks, greenways and trails statewide. CSO members include community leaders, business people, retirees and families who support Florida State Parks by directing and educating visitors, hosting events and raising funds for projects.
Citizen support organizations held more than 500 events in the past fiscal year. These events help drive visitors from across the state and beyond into parks, contributing to park revenues and visitation as well as the local economies.
A vigorous volunteer program has been in place for decades at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The park ranked No. 1 in total volunteer hours in fiscal year 2014-15, with 57,581 hours.
Volunteers and members of the park’s CSO – Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park – have contributed to the popularity of the park, which has a long history as a tourist attraction.
Volunteers work on animal habitat and enrichment and provide educational programs for park visitors. In the past year, the Homosassa Springs CSO held numerous special events to raise nearly $178,000 for park projects including improved manatee habitat. Planned projects include improvements to bear and panther habitats and a new bird of prey aviary.
The Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP) supports the entire system of state parks with educational resources, advocacy and a matching funds program. The FFSP Access for All Campaign is working to raise $2 million to increase accessibility for park visitors with disabilities. Accessible kayak launches and all-terrain power wheelchairs are on the FFSP wish list. The Yellow Buses in the Park Program provides money to transport students to and from state parks.
As valued members of the team, park volunteers are closely matched to the tasks and work schedules they seek. They plant, paint, and lead paddling tours. Volunteers greet visitors, answer phones, remove invasive plants and maintain the natural beauty of a beach, river or trail.
Volunteers also serve as state park ambassadors. Their involvement helps develop a meaningful bond between the community and the park. Volunteering with the Florida Park Service is an opportunity to help preserve our natural and cultural heritage for future generations. To learn more, visit www.FloridaStateParks.org.