New data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows that state park visitation numbers were a bright spot in an otherwise rough economic climate.

The top nine most-visited parks all boasted more than 500,000 visitors in 2010. The most popular — Honeymoon Island, in Dunedin — welcomed more than 1 million. According to a 2008 Department of Environmental Protection study, for every 1,000 people attending a state park, the total direct impact on the local community is more than $43,000.

In a press release issued this morning, Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said that the high attendance illustrates how vital Florida Forever funding is. Florida Forever is the state’s largest conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.

“We are so fortunate that Florida’s leaders have kept their commitment over the years to Floridians by continuing to make investments in public lands through the Florida Forever program,” says Draper. “We look forward to working with the Legislature this year to continue funding for Florida Forever.”

Though the Florida Forever program was allocated $300 million annually by the state legislature in 2008, the program was given only $15 million last year. And this year could see even less. The money from the program comes from deed and mortgage filing fees and, with the recession causing fewer and fewer mortgages to be recorded, the program sees fewer and fewer funds.

Draper says that the recession could, however, be a blessing in disguise for the program: “This is a wise time for the state to invest in land. … The real estate slowdown means that land is cheaper than it has been, more valuable pieces are available, and the state can get some great deals for taxpayers to preserve key conservation lands forever.”

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