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From Flagler’s Washington Oaks, Fla. Audubon Launches Campaign to Save 53 State Parks

| February 7, 2011

Washington Oaks Gardens' oldest oak has weathered a few storms in its day. Its surroundings may not be as lucky. Some of the 65 people who turned up in support of the endangered park today gathered around the old tree before breaking up. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The skies were as gray and low-hanging as the reason behind the gathering. Some 65 friends and advocates of Washington Oaks Garden State Park turned out at the park this morning to ward off a possible attempt by lawmakers to close Washington Oaks and 52 other parks (out of 159), including Bulow Plantation ruins, as part of a budget-cutting spree unlike any in Florida’s history.

The Florida Audubon Society chose Washington Oaks–and sent ex-Audubon President Clay Henderson–to kick off what’s to be a 53-day campaign, visiting and highlighting each of the 53 parks facing closure through local constituencies, email blasts, press exposure and other means of rolling back state designs. The event at Washington Oaks coincided with Gov. Rick Scott’s unveiling, in Eustice, a budget that calls for cutting $5 billion (or 7 percent) out of state spending while providing for $4 billion in tax cuts over the next two years, and the elimination of the corporate tax by 2018. (Read the full story here.)

Anticipating budget cuts of up to 15 percent, the Department of Environmental Protection drew up a list of 53 parks it would recommend for closure, based on lower attendance. Washington Oaks had 60,000 visitors last year.

Juxtaposed, the two events Monday sharply reflected how the notion of Florida as a place to live and Florida as a place to do business are being made incompatible by Scott’s philosophy, which sees government services as an obstacle to private business. The divergence is new: Quality of life has been an inherent and indivisible part of why companies chose to do business in Florida. The message Henderson, Neil Davies (the Flagler Audubon president) and others repeated at Washington Oaks Monday is that the foundations of what defines Florida, among them its state parks, are in danger. Saving the parks, in sum, has a broader aim than saving trees and paths.

“We look at it as a campaign to save Florida’s special places,” Henderson said. “It’s part of our fabric. Part of our quality of life. It’s part of our best foot forward to the country and to the world.” And just as parks such as Washington Oaks are Edens to the local flora and fauna, they are also part of larger environmental and economic hubs that make Flagler County a destination for hundreds of thousands of tourists every year: Washington Oaks is part of the Scenic A1A corridor, it’s part of an environmental corridor that connects it to the Princess Place Preserve, the Malacompra Plantation, Bing’s Landing, and further south the lush preserves of Bulow Plantation, also in danger of closure.

Owen Young, 1929 Man of the Year

The group visiting Washington Oaks this morning was familiar with the history of the park. But it heard it again, the way people like to hear a favorite song connected to their personal memories: the way the grounds had been part of Joseph Marion Hernández’s holdings in the early to mid-19th century, when Hernandez was Florida’s first delegate to Congress, the way the property took the name of Hernandez’s beau, George Lawrence Washington, who built a place there and turned it into his favorite recreational retreat, the way Owen Young, an industrialist and Time’s Man of the Year in 1929, bought the place for his bride and used it to chuck his suits for overalls when he wanted to get away from his many businesses (he’d sell citrus along A1A), and the way his widow Louise deeded it to the state as a park after trying to outdo a friend further north who was trying to get Fort Matanzas turned into a national park (it’s been a national monument since 1924).

That was the condition of her donation (she didn’t take a dime for it): make it a state park, but preserve the gardens, too–those gardens of roses in all sorts of varieties and oak-shaded tranquility that are the park’s crown jewel, and that would be the first to revert to wilderness should it go without the upkeep of some 10 state park personnel (who also work at Faver-Dykes State Park). The park provides To many in the audience Monday, the historic aspect of Washington Oaks, what it preserves of old Florida is also part of the ecology at risk.

“This is my legacy. I don’t like people messing with it,” Sisco Deen, the Flagler County Historical Society’s archivist, said, describing how few places are left that reflect the state as it was was, as opposed to the sameness of suburban and strip-malled character it has taken on in places like Palm Coast and elsewhere. “We are losing our sense of place.”

The Department of Environmental Protection has threatened to close parks before. It didn’t happen. But Henderson said this year is different, given Scott’s antipathy toward matters of nature or the environment. If a government service isn’t cashing in, Scott isn’t interested in it. Washington Oaks generates revenue, but it’s not a money-maker. One of its most frequent uses is as the nearly weekly site of local weddings. “Maybe in the off-season we could do divorces,” Robin Holman, a nearby resident and park advocate, said wryly.

At one point the congregation linked hands around Washington Oaks’s oldest surviving gift, a 250-year-old oak that predates the Republic, but may not see its surroundings survive the Scott administration.

Take action: Contact your legislators.

In Flagler:

William “Bill” Proctor, R-St. Augustine, District 20: Parts of Clay, Flagler, St. Johns (904) 823-2550, (850) 488-2977

Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, District 8: Parts of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Flagler and northeast Volusia. (904) 727-3600 and 850) 487-5030;


Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach District 12: Baker, Nassau, Union and parts of Bradford, Clay and Duval counties(904) 491-3664, (850) 488-6920

Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville District 13: Parts of Clay, Duval, (904) 573-4994, (850) 488-5102

Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville District 15: Part of Duval, (904) 353-2180, (850) 488-7417

Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville District 14: Part of Duval, (904) 924-1615, (850) 488-6893

Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville District 16: Part of Duval, (904) 359-6090, (850) 488-4171

Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville District 17: Part of Duval, (904) 536-0291, (850) 488-4388

Ronald “Doc” Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach District 18: Parts of Duval, St. Johns(904) 270-2550, (850) 488-0001

Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka District 20: Putnam and parts of Bradford, Clay, Lake, Marion, Volusia(386) 312-2272, (850) 488-0665

Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville District 19: Parts of Clay, Duval, St. Johns(904) 213-3005, (850) 488-1304

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9 Responses for “From Flagler’s Washington Oaks, Fla. Audubon Launches Campaign to Save 53 State Parks”

  1. DLF says:

    Its not a choice of making Florida a place to live or a place to do business. It is a choice of what Florida can afford. Maybe, just maybe if we get more business in Florida which will mean more jobs and more spending which equals more revenue for the state. Not counting what they may do for the local area they settle in. The fact is no matter what Scott does the liberal Press will be against it, without coming up with a better plan,sounds like the current leaders in Washington Everybody wants everything, better schools better entitlement programs, better parks and less tax. When are we going to understand that the money is not there, we must cut something. Maybe the brain power of the press can come up with a better plan that won’t make some group of people unhappy. We may all need to kick in and do without somethings , I am willing to do my share, what about you?

  2. palm coaster says:

    Before targeting our parks one of the few affordable healthy entertainments that the Florida tax payers still have, he needs to have these billionaires pay taxes first, like we all have to pay. Will be the fair thing to do. We the people get gouged daily with the proposed conservative abuses. We are forced to fund these wars, we are gouged at the pump for no other than frivolous lies we are robbed of the SS and Medicare we fund from our paychecks thru our lives and now our Florida parks. I really can see the mistake made in our last elections with such a small victory margin for this new Governor. Hope next time will be rectified. Sure miss Charlie Chris already.

  3. DLF says:

    Palm coaster: you may want to look at what the so called millionaires pay in tax compared to what you and I pay, most people in the USA do not end up paying any Federal tax, look it up so you can talk with fact and not an entitlement view point.

  4. palm coaster says:

    DFL: not my case I pay religiously my share of federal and state taxes and fine with it as long will be not wasted. I don’t know where you come up with your inaccuracies. Next Warren Buffet to refresh your memory:

  5. Lyn says:

    When we look at ways to create jobs and bring in revenue to local businesses, why not look to the real money that ecotourism can provide. Birding, history and nature photography are all pursued with a passion by people all over the country. Festivals such as the Manatee festival in Volusia county are well attended and acquaint many people not only with the Blue Spring State Park, but also the surrounding communities.

    I live in Volusia County but have made many trips to Flagler County, and spent money there, specifically because I wanted to visit Washington Oaks State park, and I have brought dozens of people with me over the last several years. How well are we doing at publicizing the natural beauty of parks like this?

  6. DLF says:

    palm coaster, first Florida does not have a state income tax, so how can you pay it, second you have no choice but to pay the federal tax,like the rest of us. Third Warren Buffet pays more tax then you ,me and most of Palm Coast.Google who pays the bulk of Federal tax and you will find that the the top 10% wage earners pay about 80% of the total tax bill, the key word here is Federal Tax and last you are happy to pay tax as long as it is not wasted, good luck on that one Santa.

  7. Carol says:

    In stead of arguing about who pays what taxes, which this article is not about, lets figure out what to do about our soon to be vanishing parks. I think a lot of people will miss both Washington Oaks and Bulow, I am a Flagler county native and i love both of those parks. What about suggesting to the governor , letting local and civic organizations take turns voluntarily operating the park, that way the biggest expense for the state would be toilet tissue for the bathrooms and gas for the mowers to cut the grass, I think garden clubs, nature clubs etc; could do a good job. But please dont close them entirely, maybe even shut them down during the week and only open on the weekends, there has to be a better answer than closing them.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Carol looks like we all united and contacting everyone of our representatives listed by Audubon here worked well so far. Your suggestions also are very good and should be taken in consideration but I would add without lay off of park employees. We do not need to increase the unemployment in Flagler. The voluntarism could help by promoting to visit our parks to all our friends/family out of Florida as well donate for an advertising campaign in the current frozen northern states promoting our sunny and warm Florida paradisiacal parks and do it right now, in the midst of the snow and ice there for a warm impression. Pinellas county is doing it right now as we speak, in the public transportation and advertising posted thru out NY ,as reported on TV few evenings ago. Some of their ideas next.

  9. palm coaster says:

    Carol, looks like we all united and contacting everyone of our representatives listed by Audubon here worked well so far. Your suggestions also are very good one and should be taken in consideration but I would add without lay off park employees. We do not need to increase the unemployment in Flagler. For more park revenue is when the voluntarism could help by promoting to visit our parksmore ourselves an all our friends and family out of Florida as well donate for an advertising campaign in the current frozen northern states promoting our sunny and warm Florida paradisiacal parks and do it right now, in the midst of the snow and ice there. Pinellas county is doing it right now as we speak, in the public transportation and advertising posters thru out NY as reported on TV.

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