A Florida state panel responsible for reviewing uses of state conservation lands voted Friday (June 10) to expedite the planning process for creating campgrounds in 56 state parks, despite some questioning the transparency of the process.
Historic City News, St. Augustine, reported that the Acquisition and Restoration Council signed off on a plan submitted by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that could lead to campgrounds being added to 56 possible state parks or double the number that now exists in Florida.
DEP officials say they do not have the money to build the campgrounds, but they will open the sites to private bidders who will pay to build and maintain the grounds, while the department would get a percentage of the revenue.
“The point is to increase the primary benefits that the parks provide,” said Albert Gregory, chief of park planning for Florida’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “Also, we are seeking to increase the revenue for state parks.”
Despite the campgrounds being operated by private entities, DEP officials maintain that the planning, construction, and operations will meet the department’s requirements.
Some of the parks on the list include Honeymoon Island, Wakulla Springs, Weeki Wachee Springs, and Ichetucknee Springs.
The next step will be to allow DEP officials to physically go to the parks and examine the feasibility of a campground. DEP officials would also check to see whether or not a campground would cause ecological damage and whether the site would spark public interest.
On Friday, members approved a planning process by a 7-2 vote that would require a public meeting and a vote before the ARC only if someone has a question or problem with a proposed campground. Otherwise the plan would be automatically approved.
Vernis Wray, owner of Ichetucknee Family Canoe & Cabins, said that he is upset there has been a lack of public input on the idea of building the new campgrounds and argued that the council should inform people such as himself as they move through the planning process.
“It stunk the way they snuck this in,” said Wray. “Obviously, this has been something they have been talking about for a while.”
The expedited process is expected to take around two weeks and should reduce the amount of time a plan could be approved by nearly two months.
Donald Forgione, director of Florida Park Service, said the expedited process is not to avoid public input and scrutiny, but it is simply to accommodate public buyers and provide and more streamlined process.
Meanwhile, Julie Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation for the Audubon of Florida, said they support the idea and like that it would bring more people to state parks. But she also voiced several concerns.
Wraithmell said she is not only worried about the planning process, but also expressed concerns over how the deals between private entities would be brokered, what the impacts the campgrounds would have on state park employees, and also the ecological impacts.
She said it would be smart to “proceed mindfully,” suggesting to start the expansion of state park campgrounds through a pilot program of a couple of campgrounds and work out issues that arise.
“I’m not saying these questions are insurmountable, but they should be considered,” said Wraithmell.
The Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) will be holding the 31st Annual State Convention at the beautiful Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa on Ft. Lauderdale Beach.
The dates for the convention are Sept. 8-11. According to FRVTA, this year’s convention will bring together feature the “brightest and best minds in the RV industry” to bring all members up-to-date on the state of the industry and what to expect in the coming months.
The theme for the convention is “The Greatest RV Show on Earth” that will create a circus-type atmosphere for attendees. The “It’s A Circus” hospitality room will offer a great place to unwind after a busy day and relax with fellow industry professionals from around the state and country. Friday afternoon will be time for the “Clowning Around” golf outing and the “The Big Catch” fishing boat. That evening the “Under the Big Top” costume/dinner party will feature everything from clowns and jugglers to lion tamers and high wire acrobats.
Saturday morning kicks off the general session with an industry panel that includes representation from every segment of the RV industry. Rick Compton from BBT and Sam Scott from Bank of America will cover retail and wholesale lending. Bob Olson, chairman and CEO from Winnebago Industries Inc., will represent the manufacturers, Bobby Cornwell from the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (FARVC) will represent the campgrounds, Martin Street from Stag-Parkway will cover parts and supplies, and Mike Molino from the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) and Richard Coon from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) will have an overall industry update. FRVTA Education Director Jim Carr and General Council Marc Dunbar will bring everyone up-to-date on the RV training program and the recent legislative session.
Saturday’s lunch will again feature “SideShow Dave” and his “Three Ring Circus” game show. Contestants will be pitted against each other in games that look very similar to the popular game show “Win it in a Minute”.
Saturday afternoon the break-out sessions will bring very detailed information to attendees in smaller, more intimate class-room settings. John Mancinelli will present a seminar on increasing sales in your dealership. Allen Monello will cover dealer compliance issues, Marc Dunbar will go more in-depth with his legislative update session, Tom Walworth from Statistical Surveys Inc. will take a look at the industry numbers and Street will show you how to make your parts departments more profitable. The convention wraps up that evening with the “Grand Finale” awards banquet and silent auction.
FRVTA still has a few sponsorship opportunities and is still taking prize donations for the silent auction and the game show luncheon. For more information or to make a donation, contact the FRVTA at (813) 741-0488 or contact David Kelly directly at (813) 714-3445.