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Should Florida state parks go private?

by Liz Childers

“Are Florida state parks going private?

A recent proposal submitted by the Florida Division of Environmental Protection (DEP) calling for a partial privatization of 56 Florida state parks is inciting controversy across the state.

The proposal would allow private companies to expand camping and RV opportunities at parks that currently have no family camping facilities.

The proposal was approved by the 10-member Acquisition and Restoration Council, who has the task of reviewing “all management plans for state-owned land.”

In a letter to Senator Mike Fasano last week, Herschel Vineyard, secretary for the DEP, wrote that the current campgrounds at state parks are not meeting the demand of visitors.

“One of the most frequent requests our park rangers receive is for additional camping opportunities in state parks,” Vineyard wrote.

The proposal would enable private companies to create and maintain new campgrounds, a boost for the cash-strapped state government.

The Florida government is currently holding local hearings for each of the proposed 56 parks.

Last week’s hearing regarding the fate of Honeymoon Island State Park was dominated by a crowd of concerned citizens who made it clear that they didn’t agree with the proposal, often jeering and questioning the actions of the DEP.

“We’ve got to end this idea of privatization of public lands for private profit,” said Clay Colson, a member of the group Citizens for Sanity.

“We have 160 state parks – about one-third of them are appropriate for camping. The rest of them are not appropriate for camping. They’re especially not appropriate for RV’s. They’re preserves. It’s a preservation,” he added.

The negative response over Honeymoon Island was heard in Tallahassee, where Governor Rick Scott withdrew the state park from the camping expansion project.

The other 55 sites, most of which are also nature preserves, are still awaiting their fate.
Florida is the first state to initialize a move of this kind, but if it goes forward, there are certainly other financially struggling states in the country that could follow the Sunshine State’s move.

What do you think? Should state parks become privatized?”