One-sentence summary: The Florida Legislature is considering waiving entrance fees at state parks for an entire year, starting July 1. Gee, they must love nature and their constituents, right? Not everyone thinks so.
Why eliminate entrance fees? Florida Sen. Charlie Dean, a Republican from Inverness, says his bill would boost attendance at state parks. The bill would not eliminate fees for specialty experiences like campground sites or guided tours.
Do the parks need a boost? Not really. More than 31 million visitors trekked to Florida state parks in fiscal year 2014-2015, a 14.8 increase over the previous year. At Myakka River State Park, attendance has increased 20 percent over the last five years, with more than 404,000 visitors coming in 2014-2015. During that same period, after adjusting for inflation, income from entrance fees went up 30 percent, to $535,000.
Then why do this? Some believe Dean’s bill is just a back-door way to deprive the parks of revenue in order to force them to adopt other moneymaking opportunities like hunting, cattle grazing and timber—an idea that sparked a public outcry when Gov. Scott and his staff floated it this year, declaring state parks should “pay their way.” Entrance fees generated 37 percent of parks’ revenue in 2014-2015. “This is going to starve our parks of revenue and create a greater need for exploitation,” argues state Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat.