Florida Park Plan Gets Writer's Partial Endorsement

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July 18, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park and Big Talbot Island State Park are located in northeast Florida, just east and north of Jacksonville.

Editor's Note: The following column was written by Ron Littlepage, a writer for the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla. He provides his take on the state park privatization proposal under consideration in the Sunshine State.

I spent several hours last week at the Betz-Tiger Point Preserve on the city’s Northside.

This is one of your parks, and if you haven’t visited it, you’ve missed quite a treat.

The preserve is easy to get to: Take Hecksher Drive to New Berlin Road, then take a right where it intersects with Cedar Point Road and turn left on Pumpkin Hill Road.

The 548-acre preserve was purchased by the city in 2003 for $7.9 million, money that was included in the Better Jacksonville Plan to buy preservation property.

The preserve is one of the jewels of Jacksonville’s park system that sparkles even brighter now with amenities that have been added.

There’s a scenic overlook that provides a spectacular view of Pumpkin Hill Creek and its marshes. It’s a great place for bird-watching, especially at low tide.

There’s a new picnic pavilion with tables and grills, plus new restrooms and additional parking.

A canoe and kayak launch near the entrance to the preserve provides paddlers with easy access to the creek, and the preserve’s three miles of trails take hikers, bikers and horseback riders alongside the creek and the preserve’s salt marshes, and through forests with moss-draped oaks and towering pines.

Betz-Tiger Point Preserve borders Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, and the adventuresome can continue on along the miles of trails there.

Speaking of state parks, they got a lot of attention recently when the state suggested allowing private companies to build and operate campgrounds in Florida’s state parks.

Overall, the state was looking at campgrounds for 56 parks, and public hearings were held earlier this month on four of the proposals.

Let’s just say that the proposed campground at Honeymoon Island State Park on the Gulf Coast that would have included spaces for RVs wasn’t a favorite of the 400 people who jammed into a hearing in Dunedin.

The message — over their dead bodies — wasn’t the least bit subtle, and the state quickly dropped the idea for Honeymoon Island. But that doesn’t mean campgrounds wouldn’t work in other state parks that don’t have them. It would depend on the park.

Two of our parks are on the state list: Big Talbot Island State Park and Pumpkin Hill.

As I wrote in a blog last week, here’s my take:

Big Talbot and Pumpkin Hill are already great parks. Providing more access for people to enjoy them would increase their value.

Neighboring Little Talbot State Park has a campground with 40 sites that include spaces for RVs, and that hasn’t detracted from that park.

One complaint is the state is just looking for ways to make money off the parks. Well, without more revenue, some parks might end up closed. Which would be worse?

Reporters in Tallahassee asked Gov. Rick Scott about dropping the idea for Honeymoon Island. He said the state would keep gathering information on the other parks.

“We have to listen to the public,” he said. “It’s their parks.”

I don’t agree with Scott on much, but on this he’s right.

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