Gov. Rick Scott (right), fishing near Panama City on Tues., April 19 (Pic via Governor's Press Office)
Gov. Rick Scott (right), fishing near Panama City on Tues., April 19 (Pic via Governor's Press Office)

Does the Scott administration want to privatize camping in state parks? (Corrected)

By | 06.28.11 | 11:28 am

In recent months, the Scott administration has cut $305 million from environmental land-buying projects in the state budget, all but ignored pleas to halt the construction of a Georgia-Pacific pipeline to funnel additional effluent into the St. Johns River and attempted to halt or delay the implementation of a set of criteria to govern water pollution in the state.The administration also made cuts to the state’s five water management districts, and sent out a memo asking them to “reexamine” how they do business.

Now, new allegations that the administration hopes to begin privatizing camping in some state parks have surfaced.

A recent St. Petersburg Times op-ed editorial reports that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has drawn up a plan to turn over portions of more than 50 state parks to private corporations to build camping and RV sites.

The initiative is a bold one, and would affect some of Florida’s most famous state parks. In one instance, the plan would lead to the construction of 45 campsites on 17.5 acres of Honeymoon Island, to accommodate both recreational vehicles and tents. According to the Times, the pronouncement has been launched “mostly outside the public’s view.”

From the Times op-ed:

Earlier this month, the division won approval, 7-2, from DEP’s Acquisition and Restoration Council, a little-noticed advisory group, to expedite the planning process to create more private concessions at the 56 state parks. But this is more than privatizing snack bars, canoe rentals or gift shops. It’s about turning over portions of state parks to private enterprises to build and run campgrounds, often in environmentally sensitive locations that are already being heavily utilized by day visitors.

At Honeymoon Island, for example, the plan for 45 campsites on 17.5 acres — including electric and water hookups for RVs in an area now designated for picnicking — would add an estimated 300 more people to the park’s daily 5,326 visitors. The plan will likely require the relocation of gopher tortoises, the division’s proposal acknowledges, and selective cutting of trees, the building of stormwater basins and an archaeological study to ensure no cultural resources are lost. Wastewater from bathhouses and an RV “dump station” will be carted offsite to a treatment facility.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s press officer, Dee Ann Miller, an effort to increase campsites statewide is in the works, but it’s “too soon” to discuss logistics.

Writes Miller, in an email:

At this time it is simply too soon to talk about any possible logistics of how camping could be expanded in state parks in the future and what it would look like. This is an idea from Florida Park Service leaders to continue to provide Florida’s citizens and visitors high-quality camping opportunities, as it is by far one of our most popular activities. There are multiple campgrounds, particularly those in South Florida, that are reserved year-round and many of the 53 state parks that offer campgrounds are booked every weekend. With the cost of constructing campgrounds in the millions of dollars, the Florida Park Service will ensure all avenues to expand camping are investigated, including private construction and operation. However, this is no reflection on current operations nor is it a trial for possible privatization of current camping facilities at state parks.

Miller cites a Florida statute — Chapter 258.007 (3) — that gives the Division of Recreation and Parks the power to “grant concessions for the use of land for the accommodation of visitors.” She says the division first began working with the private sector about 50 years ago, and that today, “nearly 100 private vendors operate within state parks.”

“Any private vendors that work within state parks will remain true to the mission of the Florida Park Service and its core values,” writes Miller. “Currently, there is not a specific timeframe for releasing a Call for Business Plans for these specific park campgrounds.”

The Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks will host public meetings on Tues., July 5, and Wed., July 6, at locations throughout the state, to address the potential for adding family camping at De Leon Springs, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs, Fanning Springs and Honeymoon Island state parks. “These public meeting are only the first step in examining the potential for increasing family camping opportunities and amending the park unit management plans,” Miller writes.

Below, a full list of the “State Parks with Potential for Providing New Family Camping Areas”:

1.      Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park

2.      Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park

3.      Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

4.      Beker State Park

5.      Big Shoals State Park

6.      Big Talbot Island State Park

7.      Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

8.      Blue Spring State Park

9.      Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve

10.  Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park

11.  Crystal River Preserve State Park

12.  Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park

13.  De Leon Springs State Park

14.  Deer Lake State Park

15.  Don Pedro Island State Park

16.  Econfina River State Park

17.  Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

18.  Estero Bay Preserve State Park

19.  Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

20.  Fanning Springs State Park

21.  Faver-Dykes State Park

22.  Fort Cooper State Park

23.  Fort Pierce Inlet State Park

24.  Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

25.  Honeymoon Island State Park

26.  Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

27.  Ichetucknee Springs State Park

28.  Indian River Lagoon Preserve State Park

29.  John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

30.  Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park

31.  Lake June-in-Winter Scrub State Park

32.  Lake Talquin State Park

33.  Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park

34.  Lovers Key State Park

35.  Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park

36.  North Peninsula State Park

37.  Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park

38.  Oleta River State Park

39.  Ponce de Leon Springs State Park

40.  Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park

41.  River Rise Preserve State Park

42.  Rock Springs Run State Reserve

43.  San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park

44.  Savannas Preserve State Park

45.  Seabranch Preserve State Park

46.  Skyway Fishing Pier State Park

47.  St. Marks River State Park

48.  St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park

49.  Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park

50.  Terra Ceia Preserve State Park

51.  Torreya State Park

52.  Troy Spring State Park

53.  Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

54.  Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

55.  Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park

56.  Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park

Correction:

As the Times‘ Craig Pittman notes on Twitter, the piece quoted above is a Times editorial, not an op-ed.  We regret the error. For more information, read his June 25 piece on the state park plan here.

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