A controversial plan to allow private contractors to build and operate campsites at state parks came from a push to create private-industry jobs to help Gov. Rick Scott fulfill a campaign promise, according to internal e-mails exchanged by parks officials earlier this year.
The St. Petersburg Times reported that as a result, officials rushed out a hastily drafted list of 56 parks where they believed new campsites could work, including a suggestion to somehow squeeze 120 of them into Honeymoon Island State Park near Dunedin – a number later scaled back to 45.
Park officials told the public the choices were rooted in their extensive expertise, but internal e-mails show they knew it was a rush job. In a May 9 e-mail, parks planning chief Albert Gregory wrote that the list of parks was “based on a fast assessment that was done to meet a very short deadline. It involved only two questions: (1) is there a large enough area of uplands in the park to build additional campsites; and (2) how many? It didn’t consider anything else.”
But the push for privately run campgrounds in the publicly owned parks – including spaces for recreational vehicles – ran into serious problems. Officials faced not just vocal opposition from fans of the parks, but also landscape issues and legal questions from federal officials.
In the end, none of the proposed plans will be headed to an advisory committee vote this month. Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione conceded in an interview last week that “we definitely need to do our due diligence a little more.”
However, the push for campsites has not been abandoned.
“We need more camping in Florida state parks, period, the end,” said Forgione, who has worked for the service, a division of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), since 1983.
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