Florida governor Rick Scott’s administration has proposed a plan to add camping, including access by recreational vehicles, to more than 50 state parks. The proposed park use changes would allow private contractors to design, build and operate new campsites in 56 state parks where camping is not currently allowed. The new campsites would be designed to accommodate tent camping as well as popup trailers and RVs. Some of the parks would be designated as equestrian facilities as well.
Earlier this week, concerned citizens filled the arena at the Wakulla County Agriculture Extension Office in Crawfordville to make their voices heard about the proposed plan for adding camping to the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. On the same evening, down state in Dunedin, several hundred people packed a space to capacity while others were turned away by rule of the fire marshal to protest against a similar proposal for Honeymoon Island State Park.
I attended the public meeting in Crawfordville and heard the testimony of residents from Wakulla and adjacent Leon County who expressed their concerns about adding privatized camping with equestrian accommodations to a parcel of land in close proximity to Wakulla Springs. The proposal would also re-open nearby Cherokee Sinks to swimming.
The meeting was educational in more ways than I expected. For example, I did not know that Cherokee Sinks is thought to overlap with Causseaux Cemetery. The Department of Environmental Protection staff at the Tuesday hearing responded to concerns about the possibility of the sinks engulfing grave sites. According to the DEP staffers, exploration of the sink yielded no evidence of underwater headstones.
I also learned that the picnic and swimming facilities operate at capacity on a regular basis during peak season months. I have certainly perceived the park as crowded when I visit during the summer, but it was edifying to have this perception officially confirmed.
For those of you not familiar with Wakulla Springs, let me refer you to the Edward Ball State Park Unit Management Plan (State of Florida, 2007) for some background information:
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park is located in Wakulla County, approximately 10 miles south of the City of Tallahassee. The park is comprised of multiple parcels, some of which are discontinuous, but can be organized generally into three components. The original land purchased to create the park, which includes the Wakulla Spring basin and most recreational facilities, is located between State Road 267 and State Road 61. The Cherokee Sink parcel is located to the west across State Road 61. Three additional parcels known as the River Sinks and Turner Sinks parcels are located to the northwest along the Leon and Wakulla County lines and adjacent to the Apalachicola National Forest. The largest of these three parcels is bisected by U.S. Highway 319. Access to the park is from State Road 267 (main entrance), State Road 61 (Cherokee Sink parcel) or CJ Spears and New Light Church Roads (River Sinks property).
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park includes a number of significant resources and historical associations that make this property unique to the state park system. The following statements capture the essence of the park’s importance to the region’s natural and/or cultural heritage:
• The park contains a first magnitude freshwater spring that includes one of the
world’s largest basins and deepest cave systems.
• The park includes three miles of “wild” spring run that supports an abundance of wildlife that can be readily experienced by the visiting public.
• The physical and recorded history of the park provides an understanding of the
long-term relationships between human cultures and natural resources on
Florida’s north Gulf Coast from the earliest habitation through the modern era.
• The park played a significant role in the social, economic and political life of
Floridians under the ownership and development of Edward Ball.
• The Wakulla Springs Lodge complex continues to provide a unique recreational
experience consistent with its origin during the Depression era.
At Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, public outdoor recreation and conservation is the designated single use of the property. There are no legislative or executive directives that constrain the use of this property. The first portion of the park was acquired on September 17, 1986 using Conservation and Recreational Land (CARL) funds. The park was initially purchased to preserve and interpret one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs systems and the wildlife and archaeological/historical features associated with it, and to maintain and enhance unique resource-based, public recreational opportunities established by one of north Florida’s influential historic figures—Edward Ball.
(State of Florida, 2007, 1)
For more information, see the listed report link:
Leon County and the City of Tallahassee also have a special relationship with Wakulla Springs. The park is noted as a Big Bend area attraction widely used by local residents and as a draw to visiting tourists as well.
The City of Tallahassee and Leon County, in partnership with the county government of Wakulla, have worked together to give special attention in recent years to the capital city’s role in preserving Wakulla Springs:
In 2002 the North West Florida Water Management District identified human sewage as the most significant human introduced source of nitrogen discharged into the Wakulla Springs recharge area. The report specifically identified wastewater treatment facilities, septic systems, commercial fertilizer, and livestock as significant contributions of nitrogen to the spring.
In 2005 the first Wakulla Springs Workshop was organized to review existing scientific data and prepare recommendations to help local government restore the health of Wakulla Spring. In 2006 the Tallahassee Leon County Planning Department began the public involvement and issue identification process for what would become the 2007 Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR). Through this public process the restoration of Wakulla Spring was identified as one of four community priorities to be addressed in the EAR.
(City of Tallahassee, 2010)
For additional details, see the listed site link:
Over the past week in Wakulla, officials of the Florida Parks Service first heard from citizens at a public hearing. A subsequent meeting of an advisory committee reinforced the points made by the general public.
General sentiments expressed indicate support for a limited introduction of low impact camping facilities. The potential addition of equestrian facilities has drawn fire due to concerns about agricultural waste issues. Proposed inclusion of facilities to accommodate trailers and RVs elicited mixed responses.
In general, the public concern is focused on environmental issues, the proposed privatization of new facilities, and an apparent haste of the Scott administration to push these changes through the system.
In Wakulla, there are lovely parcels of privately owned land for sale throughout the county. A plethora of realtors stand ready to assist potential buyers with a property purchase. The officials and personnel of our county government are poised to support entrepreneurial endeavors that will grow business and improve the local economic outlook.
Just across the street from Wakulla Springs, another facility offers camping and equestrian accommodations:
YMCA Camp Indian Springs offers off-season rental of the property
school, youth group, professional organization or club. Our facilities
would be great for any retreat you have planned!
Our campus has a dining hall with a capacity of 160 people and
twelve screened in cabins that sleep an average of 12 people
each. For an additional fee you can arrange lifeguards to swim in
our natural spring and staff to supervise programming in our indoor
skate park, paint ball field and low ropes course. Although we do
not have horses to rent for programming we do offer our
equestrian center for your equine accommodations.
We offer daily and overnight use of our facilities.
How many requests does Camp Indian Springs receive for camping? Has consideration been given to accommodating individual reservations at this facility?
To call and inquire about this facility, see the link below:
The camping proposal is widely perceived as another step in the Rick Scott master plan to privatize the state of Florida. Allowing private entities to use state park lands to develop commercial enterprises for profit is a tax break for the private sector and further erodes the potential to grow the tax base. Park lands are already off the property tax rolls.