Florida’s top environmental official said Friday (July 8) the state will put the brakes on an expedited plan to build new family campgrounds in 56 Florida state Parks, according to a report in the Dayton Beach News Journal.
In a letter to 14 Florida legislators, Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said the state will not recommend going forward with a plan to add camping at Honeymoon Island State Park, a barrier island near Dunedin.
Additionally, Vinyard wrote the department “will be evaluating how to proceed” at DeLeon Springs, Fanning Springs, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs and any other park initially considered for new campgrounds.
Hundreds of opponents turned out at public meetings this week to discuss camping at each of the four parks, with nearly 50 people attending a meeting in DeLeon Springs and almost 1,000 trying to get into a meeting in Dunedin.
“The Department recognizes that adding amenities in state parks should be a citizen-supported effort and should not appear rushed,” Vinyard wrote. “Going forward, we will be taking a different approach and I have asked staff to meet with local communities, state park citizen support organizations and other park stakeholders before formally proposing the addition of amenities or services, including family camping, at any of our state parks.”
Arnette Sherman, co-president of the West Volusia Audubon Society, had expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of adding 70 campsites at DeLeon Springs.
“That’s great, just super,” said Sherman when told of Vinyard’s letter on Friday evening. “It does show that people speaking up can make a difference.”
The park service had just received approval in early June to expedite the process for adding camping at state parks, and then quickly announced public meetings to discuss adding camping at Honeymoon Island, DeLeon Springs, Wakulla Springs and Fanning Springs. Of the 160 existing state parks, 53 already have camping.
“The fact that many of our park campgrounds are often fully occupied tells us that Florida’s citizens enjoy being outdoors with their families in a tent, a pop-up trailer or an RV,” stated Vinyard.
“One of the most frequent requests our park rangers receive is for additional camping opportunities in state parks. Indeed, due to the popularity of some sites during holidays or peak camping season, campers have found it difficult to book a camping spot without making reservations months in advance.”
However, Vinyard wrote, the department’s desire to meet the demand was “overshadowed by the timing of the process.”
Vinyard’s letter was addressed to Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and copied to 13 other senators and representatives, including Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach. Taylor spoke out against the proposal at the meeting in DeLeon Springs on Tuesday night.
Taylor was disappointed Vinyard’s letter didn’t nix camping at DeLeon Springs and said Friday he’s not sure what else the department needs to evaluate at DeLeon Springs.
The community has already spoken and “does not want camping” at DeLeon Springs, Taylor said.