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Floridians Don’t Like State Park Proposal

July 6, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor’s Note: The first hearings in a series of hearings to allow privately operated campgrounds in Florida state parks were held Tuesday (July 5) across the state. Following are highlights from those hearings.

DUNEDIN — Florida’s most popular state park, Honeymoon Island, should be left the way it is with no additional campsites or spaces for recreational vehicles, a stream of devoted Honeymoon fans told state park officials Tuesday night during a public hearing that lasted about four hours, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Not one person who spoke supported allowing RVs in the beach park, and several threatened to do whatever they had to do to block them.

“This group will lay down in front of the bulldozers before we let this happen,” warned Jan Allyn of the Florida Native Plant Society.

More than 400 people turned out for the hearing, packing the Hale Senior Activity Center. As the meeting was called to order, hundreds more people were still clamoring to get in, despite an order by the fire marshal saying the room could not hold any more.

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DeLEON SPRINGS — Several fans of Florida’s De Leon Springs State Park voiced their opposition Tuesday night (July 5) to a plan that could open 20 acres to RV camping, potentially run by a private company, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Nearly all of the people speaking at a Florida State Parks meeting said that adding family campgrounds would overwhelm a park that already is at capacity, harm its beauty and may be the start of privitization of the park system.

“Now that we have an emperor in Tallahassee, he wants to bring private business into this state,” said Chris Fenwick of DeLand. “We don’t want private business running our parks.”

DeLeon Springs State Park, a 606-acre park in northwest Volusia, is one of the first group of 56 state parks where Department of Enviromenal Protection (DEP) officials have proposed new family campgrounds.

These would be full-facility campgrounds with paved parking and amenities, including water, electricity and a sewage dump station. Florida already has 53 state parks that offer family campgrounds.

Park officials said there has always been demand for more campgrounds, but adding more campsites would cost about $1 million to $2 million for about 30 new campsites.

Environmentalists and state legislators have opposed the expansion idea, concerned it would open environmentally pristine areas to more intensive use.

There is also suspicion about allowing private companies build and manage the campgrounds, especially with recent proposals to sell state parks and to build golf courses on state parks.

The DeLeon Springs proposal would allow up to 70 campsites. Park officials have identified 35 acres, primarily former cattle pasture, for the campgrounds. State officials estimate the new campgrounds would add 560 visitors a day.

At last night’s meeting, several people pointed out that the park is already at capacity and can’t handle more visitors. During the last fiscal year, more than 275,000 people visited the park, popular for its swimming hole and the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant where people can make their own pancakes at their table.

Elizabeth “Beeg” Camarota, with the Volusia-Flagler Sierra Club, said she visited the park over the holiday weekend and couldn’t imagine how crowded it would be with overnight campers.

She also shared her experience at a privately run campground at Alexander Springs. “I couldn’t see anything for all the garbage,” she said. “They maximize profit by minimizing staff.”

DEP officials emphasized the proposal hasn’t been approved yet. The DeLeon Springs proposal would be discussed at the Aug. 19 meeting of the state Acquisition and Restoration Council. It would need final approval by the governor and cabinet.

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