Florida should take greater advantage of the volunteers and private partners supporting its park system. It can start by restoring a modest grant program to improve park facilities.
The Legislature has not given any money to the state program known as the Partnership in Parks for the past several years. The neglect is troublesome considering the park system's substantial return on investment. State numbers indicate the park system had a direct economic impact of nearly $1.2 billion on local economies and produced nearly $78 million in sales tax money in 2012-13.
The nonprofit Friends of Florida State Parks Inc. proposes to take responsibility for the state grants and is asking lawmakers for $1.5 million in the 2014-15 state budget to restart the program. The benefits of the program can be seen at Honeymoon Island State Park. About $560,000 in state and private dollars transformed a former bathhouse into the Rotary Centennial Nature Center in 2007.
Gov. Rick Scott lauded the intent of the program but vetoed $750,000 for it in 2013 amid concerns about administrative costs. In response, the plan this year is to cap overhead expenses at 5 percent. Encouraging private investment in state parks for boardwalks, trails, nature centers and to make the facilities more readily accessible for the disabled is a worthwhile goal that shouldn't be overlooked again this year.