State parks in Alachua County far from self-sufficient

Gainesville resident Danny Davis gets an envelope from the pay station kiosk to pay the park admission fee for visitors to the La Chua Trailhead on Sept. 2.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun

Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 14, 2015 at 5:56 p.m.

If Florida’s state parks are to be self-sufficient, or close to it, the six in Alachua County will fall pitifully short.

Jon Steverson, the new chief of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, made more waves than the surf that washes ashore at the state’s beach parks when he announced that he would like the parks to sustain themselves on revenue.

Yet none of the parks in Alachua County — and most in the state — come anywhere close to meeting that.

And people who use the parks, or volunteer in them, believe Steverson’s goal is misguided. Among them is James Perran Ross, the president of the Friends of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, who stressed that he was speaking for himself and not the organization.

“Personally, I think it’s a red herring. I don’t see why anyone isn’t asking the question: why should we make parks self-sufficient? Parks are not self-sufficient,” Ross said. “They are a service to the public. That’s what we play bloody taxes for. They should be run by the state for the good of the people of Florida.”

Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service, said the mission of the parks is to protect the environment and historical features, and to provide areas for recreation.

Any activity such as timbering or cattle grazing proposed for economic self-sustainability will be approved only if it does not conflict with that mission, he said.

He added that timbering and grazing have successfully been done at parks to improve the land for its natural qualities. He cited clearing stands of planted pines for restoration of a natural landscape as an example.

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