You may have seen in the news at the end of June about proposals for adding more camping facilities at Florida state parks that don't currently have them. Public meetings were held, and public opposition was strongly against the proposals at every meeting.
I wanted to comment about the subject, but have had a lot of difficulty. My problem is that I have too much to say, and have had trouble writing in such a way to boil everything down into three or less points. I think that I may be able to now do that after several failed attempts.
The whole debate about establishing campgrounds in the parks are driven by a political philosophy or point of view. If we had a different administration in power in Tallahassee, we would not even have this debate right now. The previous administration's philosophy was to keep the current services and facilities at the parks with minimal change. Since the new administration has taken over last January, the winds have changed.
The question of funding.
The current idea for the parks is that they should pay for themselves. This is a point of view or political philosophy. Yes, I think it is a good idea for the parks to generate as much revenue to go towards their operation as possible. There are also other sources that pay for the parks, like building impact fees or docket stamps when you purchase fishing or hunting licenses. But the current administration wants to reduce or even eliminate these impact fees, thus putting more of the funding burden upon admission and usage fees.
So the idea to help parks pay for themselves, is to increase the number of parks with camping. But will that work?
Will they pay for themselves?
Do the parks pay for themselves? Mostly, they do not. I recently saw a survey of our different state parks, and seeing what revenue they bring in as opposed to their operating costs. Only a few parks at the very top of visitor attendance generate enough revenue to cover their operating costs. One park that does pay for itself and brings in twice the revenue as it expends is Honeymoon Island. That park does not have camping, and a strong showing of public support at the beginning of the month has ensured that it will remain that way. My park has 120 campsites, and unfortunately the revenue brought in does not pay the park operating costs.
Why does a park that does not have camping pay for itself, while my park that does have camping operate in a deficit? I think that the simple explanation is utility costs. A campground does not have money just appear without any cost. The whole utility cost for my park last year was about $300,000.00, which was about equal to the amount of money the park brought in as revenue. That is water, electric, sewer, and garbage pick-up. Having seen the utility bills, I can say with confidence that the vast majority of these expenses result from usage in the campground.
This does not include the cost of facility repair in the campground which can be very high. Facility repair comes from repairing water lines squirting out of the ground, or repairing leaky toilets. Broken light fixtures and vandalism. Broken sinks and smashed knobs on showers and sinks. Replacement of worn out electrical services, plugs, light switches, and replacing electrical boxes at campsites. Then you will have the water and electrical hook-ups damaged at campsites when motorhomes drive away and forget to unhook their lines. So besides generating money, campgrounds can be a big expense, especially with aging facilities.
Local parks with campgrounds proposed:
The local news announced other state parks in our local three counties in southwest Florida who might get campgrounds. And it was basically the ones that do not currently have campgrounds.
Lover's Key State Park is very pristine, and the Audubon Society will fight any effort to build a campground on the natural areas that remains in the park.
Estero Bay is a large preserve, but only has one full-time employee. And his office is next to the preserve at Koreshan State Park. So if Koreshan and Estero are right next to each other, and Koreshan already has an established full-facility campground, why put another campground on the other side of the creek in the preserve?
And the state wants to put a campground in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. Fakahatchee also has a very small staff. The only place in the preserve that could support the campground is the former rock mining area adjacent to the ranger station, and a lot of money will have to be spent to establish water and electric utilities there. Locals would also strongly oppose a campground, especially since the national park has campgrounds only a few miles away, and two other private campground operators in the area are struggling to stay in business.
So if the state wants to build new campgrounds in state parks, will they upgrade and repair the old, aging facilities for state parks that have old campgrounds? Nobody has said anything about that.
Please don't lose it!
And finally, is one big issue that is on the minds of the people of Florida. Many people see the state parks as the last vestige of natural Florida that has not been over-developed and screwed up with urban sprawl. They are afraid that once buildings and people are put in these natural areas, they are changed or destroyed forever. People just don't want to see that happen, and see the parks saved as areas that preserve the few natural areas of Florida that remain.