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Washington Oaks Gardens and Bulow Ruins Among 53 State Parks That Would Close

| February 1, 2011

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park has many friends. (© FlaglerLive)

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park has many friends. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s happened three times before, a virtual budgetary scare tactic that heightens anxieties, makes the point that state government is in the poorhouse, but doesn’t actually follow through entirely: the Florida Department of Environmental Protection draws up a list of state parks it’s proposing to close, publicizes it, then then uses the tactic to raise prices at the parks or reduce staffing and services, but keep them going.

It’s happening again: DEP has drawn up a list of 53 parks it’s proposing to close, among them two of Flagler County’s three most popular and statelier parks–Washington Oaks Garden State Park and the Bulow Plantation ruins. It’s part of a plan to reduce the division’s budget by 15 percent. Gov. Rick Scott next week, in his budget plan to the Legislature, will reveal to what extent the cuts may become reality.

There’s a difference of context between this year’s proposed park cuts and previous years’ proposals: the state budget gap of $3.6 billion is the largest to date. Gov. Scott is not as friendly to the environment or to parks as Charlie Crist was. No federal aid will be offsetting state shortfalls this year, as it did last. will be The state parks have no further concessions to make: at Washington Oaks, for example, the entrance fee is $4 per car, but there’s no one there to take it anymore. The state doesn’t have the money to fund a gate keeper. Entry pay is on the honor system.

Florida House Rep. Bill proctor, the St. Augustine Republican who represents Flagler County, said Tuesday afternoon he won’t deal with the issue until it reaches the House Appropriations Committee, of which he’s a member. But, he said, given the circumstances, it’s unlikely that in a choice between cutting parks and cutting education or public safety, the parks would prevail.

Bill Proctor (© FlaglerLive)

“It would be foolish to think that under the current prevailing circumstances, anybody is going to come up with a budget proposal that’s going to be widely well received,” Proctor told FlaglerLive. “Unless there’s some approach in this situation that I don’t understand, when you consider that human services, education and public safety consume about 80 percent of the current budget, you know that you can’t cut $4 billion out without cutting in those areas.” And, he added, “I can’t imagine that any agency that operates in those areas are going to give up money to the park services.”

DEP’s 53 parks were chosen according to attendance. Washington Oaks and Bulow Plantation happen to receive fewer visitors, comparatively, than other state parks across Florida. None of Flagler’s parks rank among Florida’s top-25 most visited parks. The most visited is Honeymoon Island in Pinellas County was the biggest draw in 2010, with 1.04 million visitors, followed by Sebastian Inlet and Lovers Key (749,000 and 731,000). DeLeon Springs in Volusia County ranks at Number 20, with 254,000 visitors.

“It doesn’t seem possible,” says Anne Wilson, president and chairwoman of the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway (the 72 miles of A1A from the Duval-St. Johns County line to the Flagler-Volusia line). “The events I’ve been to at the parks have always been so well attended. Isn’t that one of the most popular wedding spots in Flagler County? The Rose Garden there–people use that for weddings all the time. It’s a beautiful spot. I don’t understand that at all. It’s got such an incredible setting. the old house there is such a wonderful example of old Florida architecture.”

Peggy Heiser, vice president of tourism development in Flagler County and a member of the board of directors of the Florida Association of Conventions and Visitors Bureau (FACVB), said Tuesday the association has been tracking the DEP’s proposal, but isn’t taking action yet, and won’t, until concrete budget cuts are proposed. “We don’t believe there’s a real threat at this point,” Heiser said, the proposal being only theoretical. Should it become concrete, there’ll be an organized response at the state and local level: tourism businesses and associations will be called upon to contact their legislators and apply pressure against the cuts.

“It would be a horrible thing for them to close any of our parks,” Heiser said. “It’s not only attendance, they also offer amazing trail systems, just the beautiful natural surroundings we have here in Flagler County, they’re very well run, the ranger system we have is very well run, and part of our marketing is the eco-niche. It will affect us if something like this were to happen.” Heiser and the county’s Tourist Development Council have been emphasizing Flagler’s eco-tourism for the past two years, with measurable success: the county last year realized better hotel stays than the previous year, despite the poor economy.

Both Washington Oaks and Bulow Creek are part of a linear park system that runs from Marineland to Ormond Beach. Several parks in St. Johns and Duvall counties would also be closed.

In September 2009, the Washington Oaks Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A $75,000 fund-raising campaign is under way by the Friends of Washington Oaks to restore the park’s historical greenhouse, creating gateway signs to identify the park’s highlights, and to build a permanent stage. All three projects would cost $200,000. Grants and in-kind donations would provide the balance.

Washington Oaks is also known for its bird life and, of course, its gardens.

“That’s what boggles my mind,” Wilson said. “The entire concept of shutting those places down is not rational. You don’t shut down gardens, not in Florida, because they take over if you don’t maintain them on a regular basis. Both of those places really showcase the beauty and history of Florida. It would be a crying shame to close them down.” Wilson said her email in-box has been flooded with traffic about how to respond. That response will be organized, should Scott make the cuts part of his budget come Monday. “We’re pretty good with the power of the pen,” Wilson said.

Here’s the list of parks the Department of Environmental Protection is proposing to close:

  • Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park, Haines City
  • Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park, Stuart
  • Big Shoals State Park, White Springs
  • Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, Flagler Beach
  • Camp Helen State Park, Panama City Beach
  • Cedar Key State Museum State Park, Cedar Key
  • Colt Creek State Park, Lakeland
  • Constitution Convention Museum State Park, Port St. Joe
  • Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Crystal River
  • Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, Bushnell
  • Dagny Johsnon Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Key Largo
  • Deer Lake State Park, Santa Rosa Beach
  • Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, Gainesville
  • Don Pedro Island State Park, Boca Granda
  • Dudley Farm Historic State Park, Newberry
  • Dunn’s Creek State Park, Pomona
  • Estero Bay Preserve State Park, Estero
  • Fort Cooper State Park, Inverness
  • Fort George Island Cultural State Park, Jacksonville
  • Fort Mose Historic State Park, St. Augustine
  • John Gorrie Museum State Park, Apalachicola
  • Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, Ellenton
  • Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, Tallahassee
  • Lake June-in-Winter Scrub State Park, Sebring
  • Lake Talquin State Park, Tallahassee
  • Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park, Tallahassee
  • Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, Islamorada
  • Madison Blue Spring State Park, Lee
  • Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, Cross Creek
  • Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park, Woodville
  • Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, Olustee
  • Orman House Historic State Park, Apalachicola
  • Paynes Creek Historic State Park, Bowling Green
  • Peacock Springs State Park, Luraville
  • Perdido Key State Park, Pensacola
  • Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, Ponce de Leon
  • Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, Jacksonville
  • Rock Springs Run State Reserve, Sorrento
  • San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, Alachua
  • San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park, St. Marks
  • Savannas Preserve State Park, Jensen Beach
  • St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, Stuart
  • St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park, Fellsmere
  • Suwannee River Wilderness Trail/Nature and Heritage Tourism Center, White Springs
  • Terra Ceia Preserve State Park, Palmetto
  • The Barnacle Historic State Park, Coconut Grove
  • Troy Spring State Park, Branford
  • Wacasassa Bay Preserve State Park, Cedar Key
  • Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, Palm Coast
  • Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, Port Richey
  • Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, Islamorada
  • Ybor City Museum State Park, Tampa
  • Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park, Holt
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23 Responses for “Washington Oaks Gardens and Bulow Ruins Among 53 State Parks That Would Close”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    There is no bottomless pit of money nor is there a golden goose. I too wish the parks wouldn’t be closed, but cuts have to start someplace. I’d prefer that the public sector unions and the huge corrupt giveaway bureacracies be dismantled, but for now it’s baby steps. A good start would be to dismantle the totally useless Scenic Highway program which uses public funds to make work for people with a lot of time on their hands.

    I sure hope our new governor makes good on his promises to cut costs, not raise taxes.

  2. Yellowstone says:

    Perhaps another reduction in taxes would help close all 53. Or, perhaps, we can raise entrance prices so only the wealthy can use them.

    Amen to the ideal of the “People’s Park”.

  3. ParkVisiter says:

    I have never heard so much hate and negative comments from someone as lawabidingcitizen, who is obviously a member of the tea party hate group. If you have your way i bet you would prefer an everybody for themselves country. All I aver hear from you on your posts is dismantle and destroy, unions are the evil, and Obama is the antichrist. But live most tea party members and right wing fear mongers you never offer any solutions just more criticism. So why don’t you either offer a solution to the problem or stop being part of the problem.

  4. Huh? says:

    @ParkVisiter: Your comprehension of the English language is apparent from your lack of spelling to your lack of understanding what lawabidingcitizen’s solutions is. The poster said, “I’d prefer that the public sector unions and the huge corrupt giveaway bureacracies be dismantled.” What solution don’t you understand?

    What do you suggest as a means to fund these parks? Why are people so afraid to let the market decide? Maybe people don’t care to go? People obviously will pay $100 to go to Disney, but not go to a park for free. So how do you fund the park? Why should my taxes pay for a park that people don’t visit? What’s your solution?

  5. billybob says:

    I’m just impressed the author called it what it is – scare tactics. It’s non-news. Just like when they say “40% of local teachers will lose their jobs this August” or “we’re going to have to close 3 fire stations”. It never, ever happens. It’s all scare tactics to keep taxes from declining. I just hate that people fall for it.

  6. PC MAN says:

    To lawabidingcitizen and every other teabagger dimwit, there is no such thing as a “golden goose”, it’s a goose that lays golden eggs ! Every teabag half wit uses that phrase, stupidity is contagious. The story’s moral has to do with greed, something you and all other teabaggers are driven by.

  7. NortonSmitty says:

    There are certain responsibilities a Civilized Society must rise to in order to deserve the name. One of the bedrock values that have been passed down in any civilization since we rose up on two legs has been the ingrained duty to preserve things that will link the past legacies of a people to pass to future generations. To show their bloodline the things that inspired them, gave them a sense of awe if seen in nature or a sense of artistic pride if created, Important things worth any sacrifice to preserve and protect regardless of cost, solely to show future generations that they had the same values and appreciation for quality. Unchanged in them generations later. A link if you will to show them they are one.

    This is why even the poorest of countries make sure they fund their museums and art galleries first. Even the Egyptians have huge museums and insure the Pyramids are maintained. In the middle of a revolution, the people encircled the Cairo Museum to protect it from looters. It’s the same reason why our forefathers protected Yellowstone and Yosemite. We owe it to our own bloodline. Regardless of the cost. There are just some things that should never be subjected to a rational cost/benefit analysis or forced to justify their existence judged solely by return on investment.

    This is because they are priceless.

    As a country, one of the ways we first knew we had hit maturity was when Teddy Roosevelt started the National Park System. We realized that we had to preserve some of our untamed lands to show the future where we came from. The Smithsonian was also started about that time. And these National Treasures were always well maintained even through the depression because we knew they were irreplaceable. A sacred obligation we owed our Country, ourselves and our future. We would be ashamed not to.

    Today, this sacred trust is reduced to a minor political point. The entire annual budget for the National Park System is less that we spend in one day in Afghanistan, about $2 Billion. One F-35 fighter, 0.01% of the Federal budget! For what we spent on pretending to rebuild Iraq’s electrical grid, we could double that for 25 years! In Florida, the total budget for every park in the state is less than the revenue collected IN 3 HOURS from the Intangibles Tax on stocks and investment profits over $250k that was gutted in 2000.

    So the next time you hear some Proud, Patriotic, Conservative Budget Hawk talk about how we have to cut the budget and not raise taxes on Millionaires because of the Legacy we are leaving our children, just do what I do. Tell them to go fuck themselves. It will get you just as far as reasoning with them, it’s quicker, and much more satisfying.

  8. 91LX says:

    The whole thing just sounds real sad. I hope that the parks do stay open. I have been going to Bulow for ever.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Your new Governor Rick Scott if so fixed on saving money, then needs to look at charging taxes for rich corporations like the Arison’s Cruise Lines the largest in the world operating out their base port of Miami, Ft Lauderdale etc. These billionaire businesses do not pay a penny in USA taxes for their very rich and very polluting operation. With fair taxes generated from cruise lines we will sure keep our park fees low and also created thousands of decent paid jobs in Florida to fix our decaying infraestructure. Do not give in because Mickey Arison will threaten to take his base ports somewhere else. We are the richest market they have with majority USA passengers embarking in their cruises, so is doubtful that he will take his business somewhere else. What his passengers do..? fly to the Caribbean Islands or Mexico or elsewhere to embark and add the R/T fair to their vacation cost? That won’t fly. Mr. Rick Scott already cut free press presence in his “public meetings” and now wants to close or rise the fees in our parks? He needs to have these billionaires pay taxes, first. Please read below and be informed.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Hey HU? Your pseudo English command shows well in your “bureacracies” versus the correct bureaucracies. Then don’t go around looking for typo’s by a someone that while writing about one more of many unfair conservative proposals, now for our parks, makes a human error on the heat of the prose. Watch your own ignorant mistakes before pointing others. Go tell your governor to charge taxes not levied yet to the billionaires operating in Florida, first! Try and do something positive for a change.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Other than targeting our parks and state employees including teachers, pension cuts and also a 5% salary cut (or forced pension contribution).

    Your brand new rich (thanks to his fruitful and shady dealings with Florida Medicare) Naples dweller Governor, instead should charge tax to the billionaires utilizing very well expensive water front land in their Miami Heat stadium that they use “for free no rent”.
    Are his Teapartiers fans aware of this tax exemptions for billionaires in Florida? If so, they should address to go and levy taxes on those like we all have to pay and resolve our Florida deficit.

  12. Connie Sowards says:

    My students and team of fellow teachers value WOGSP as a real pearl for estuarine studies. We visit at least annually and are able to conduct all kinds of studies at the site. Closing this park just makes it more impossible for my students to get to areas where this opportunity for field experience exists. Sure we may not get the numbers at WOGSP, but that doesn’t account for the value of the experiences offered there.
    At promotion last year the students put together over a 15 minute show of the beauty of this park. If it weren’t for the restrictions on students in pictures, I would have posted this on my website. You have never seen such joy on young faces. Our days at WOGSP are worth a million in these young lives. The residents of Flagler and St. Johns county need these real spaces, green spaces, real FLORIDA. The Hammock area is overrun with unoccupied high rises. Land is cheap. The loss of this space would be terminal to the environment of the area. Shame on the Scott administration and those in the heirarchies which would remove these contacts for our children to see GOD’S creation, rather than CONCRETE and more vacancy signs.
    My experience as a volunteer at Christmas, for 10 Earth Day Weekend celebrations has been rich. My students, even former students clambor to help at these events. Tens of Thousands of children’s smiles grace this park every year. How dare they close these parks to us. They are public land. There should be NO SUCH ACTION WITHOUT REFERENDUM.

  13. Its always a sad day when a city or county closes down a park, especially since there aren’t very many to begin with. Hopefully city councils can start addressing the right issues to help keep them!

  14. Saddened says:

    I hope that not one of the parks on the list is closed! Perhaps the city of Palm Coast could help out by donating money received from the traffic camera tickets? After all it is the citizens money.

  15. lawabidingcitizen says:

    I’ll try to clearer.

    I’ve already said, I don’t want to close parks and I have a very simple solution to our financial problems. For starters, I want to dismantle the public sector unions which are draining the life blood from our lives. Then I want to dismantle the giveaways and entitlements that are costing billions. Then I want to lower income and capital gains taxes for everybody especially businesses, so we’ll have more of our money to use as we wish making employers optimistic enough to expand and hire more workers. Like it or not, that’s the only way to avoid economic collapse. It works first time and every time.

    Those who are concerned about corporations and millionaires not paying their fair share aren’t correct. Over HALF of our citizens PAY NO TAXES, but they vote for the rest of us to give them ever more of our hard earned money. The top 5% of earners pay over 50% of the taxes that the shirkers think of as entitlements.

    The golden goose is a real thing. It’s almost dead now and I doubt any of you want to be around when it dies dead.

    If Gov. Scott is successful, we here in Florida will still be alive and kicking while most of the Democratic controlled states like California, New York, Illinois, etc. will be bankrupt and that won’t be a pretty sight.

    FYI – I am not a member of the tea party nor affiliated with any religion.

  16. Anonymous says:

    As usual we have in our communities the “lawabidings” distorting real facts utilizing the very damaging conservative agenda that since 2001 has put our country’s economy in the pathetic financial status that it is today. They speak against what we most Americans need to survive in a supposed civilized and developed country and they try it with invented ficticious data and fabricated facts. If many of the lawabydings and company will take the time to make an educated research maybe they will stop their intended brainwashing campaigns.

    Why don’t they demand that we stop these wars that cost us over 2 billions a week, started by their past commander and chief based on lies? That saving sure will create millions of jobs and pay for our government budgets without further cutting workers services that we do not receive and we are taxed for.

  17. PC MAN says:

    lawabidingcitizen’s post reminds me of a quote I heard recently . “Not all conservatives are stupid but all stupid people are conservative”

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Come now PC man, I’m all for showing up the limits of reactionaries, but in fairness, slinging quotes around doesn’t say much. It’s like quoting from the bible: it sounds grave and heavy, but there’s always a counter-quote. In this case there’s Churchill’s famous table-turning: “Show me a young conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.” Of course Churchill, one of the great war lovers of all times, was speaking literally, considering the number of liberals who got their brains blown out in the trenches of Verdun and the Marne and all those other useless battles of that first war to end all wars. His rehearsal for the second. Naturally, Bush had a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office. If that didn’t say it all.

  18. NortonSmitty says:

    Pierre, I believe Churchill was paraphrasing a quote from a Labor politician regarding a criticism from a Tory about his son getting arrested at a Communist demonstration. He said: If my son were not attracted to the populist teachings of the Communist Party at the age of twenty, I would question his heart. However, if he is still doing it at thirty, I shall question his head. Good stuff.

  19. NortonSmitty says:

    Oh, I do agree with the stupid being conservative quote. The smart ones are conservative because they are selfish and greedy and have no faith in their fellow man, but the majority are just stupid.

  20. Yellowstone says:

    Perhaps the State could close WOGSP down – then sell the property to a Developer – or maybe China – or Germany. it’s a beautiful spot for a new cono development.

    The amount of the sale and the new property taxes generated could provide funds to fill the empty coffers.

  21. Albert R says:

    I have camped out in many State Parks,down the Eastern US coast.I have never seen any major problems caused by campers.I have seen many disruptive activity’s going on in parks by the regular a day visitors,from thowing rocks at birds,leaving trash on beaches,loud+ anger related behavior,etc. In my opinion people that R/V park and campout,theat the Parks more like there own home(Cleaning up after themself),and staying eco friendly in most areas.-The parks that are used for R/V camping and regular tent camping offer better facuilty’s ,more activity’s and employ more local and Park facility people to make our stay and da ymore enjoyable for all park vistors.Nice camp stores,cleaner park grounds,more community functions for local kids groups,Boy+Girl Scount camping,Kids spending there summer learning about nature,enjoying a camp fire sing and story telling night ,etc.-Please don’t base your opinion on money or keeping things the way they always been and let the future in and do what ever is necessary to keep the State Parks opened and enjoyable for all.If Private companys building and over seeing many area’s may be the answer please try to think of the whole picture and the importants this has on our upcoming generation.–Thanks for letting me voice my thoughts on this project-Albert R:Retired operation supervisor, Director of Faculitys Princton,NJ Shools and College system.

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