No More State Parks?

Residents in Florida’s Pandhandle may see many of the state parks in the region close if Gov. Rick Scott has his way.

Scott’s proposed budget cuts are causing state parks across Florida to close due to lack of visitation.

For the fiscal year 2012, Scott has asked all state agencies to submit budget proposals that would reduce their spending 15 percent.

Scott is proposing the budget cuts to help close a $3.6 billion deficit, with other plans to cut taxes.

In an effort to lower operating costs, the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks, an entity within the Department of Environmental Protection, released a proposal in October that would close 53 state parks.

In Tallahassee, three parks cease visitation: Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, Lake Talquin State Park and Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park.

“The potential closing of the Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park is saddening,” said Kathryn Buford, 24, a Tallahassee resident.

“The Mounds are an important part of the area’s history. A lot of people around here have family buried in those mounds.”

The recent proposal will save state government almost $7 million of the $78,979,445 it costs to maintain the state parks during fiscal 2010.

The proposed closures are based on visitation numbers and whether the parks offer overnight accommodations.

According to the list of proposed park closure offered by the Florida Park Service, the Tallahassee area is losing the most state parks leaving only two: the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, located at 3540 Thomasville Road.; and Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park, located at 7502 Natural Bridge Road.

All the Indian Mound sites could wind up on the chopping block.

Despite the proposal to close dozens of parks, nothing is set in stone yet.

“Governor Scott has not released his recommended budget and the Legislature has not acted on the fiscal year of 2011 to 2012 yet, so the proposed closures are still just that: proposed,” said Kristin Lock, Florida Department of Environmental Protection public information specialist.

“Therefore, we cannot speculate on hypothetical impacts or implementation details.”

Overall, Florida’s Panhandle faces the possibility of losing many state parks that hold historical significance. This includes the Constitution Convention Museum State Park in Port St. Joe, just south of Tallahassee in Franklin County, where Florida’s first Constitutional Convention was held in 1838.

At the end, it is all up to the legislature and Scott’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The decision can bring the end of all public parks on the budget proposal or a few might still be saved.

“After 35 years in business, I know the importance of focusing on clear goals,” said Scott during his unveiling of the budget proposal Monday in Eustis.

“This ‘jobs budget’ is focused on the goal of shrinking government, reducing your taxes, creating private sector jobs and holding government accountable.”