Large Parks versus Small Parks

RossPrairieCampground (53)When you think about your camping experiences in Florida State Parks do you recall what you liked about the park?

Was it a smaller, out-of-the-way State Park or was it just outside of a large town and a fairly large State Park?

Do you prefer to stay at a place with lots of activities or do you just want to lay back and enjoy the quiet?

These questions and more you really should ask yourself before you make reservations at any State or National Park. (Please always make reservations as far in advance as you can). The reason being is you will want to get the most bang for your hard-earned, or even retired, bucks. If you haven’t visited your intended park before go online and read the material on their website, check out some videos about the park on YouTube and ask friends, relatives and your Facebook buddies what they thought about the park if they visited it in the before. You want to look at pictures and videos and go online to see what people have said about the park recently. Remember things could have changed if the information is more than a couple of years old. And please make note of some of the rules about camping in your intended parks as well. They are there for the comfort, safety and enjoyment of all the visitors not just to pick on you.

Since we have been traveling over a year now and have stayed at almost half the Florida State Parks with RV camping we have found, so far, that we like the more quiet, out-of-the-way parks rather than the busy more popular parks. We enjoy the peace and quiet and the fact that these parks are easier to get into than some of the more popular ones. Yes, it is nice to have concessions within the park to sell you supplies and food. And it is even nice, every now and then, to be able to participate in tram tours or boat tours and these types of State Parks are the financial bread-winners for the entire park system. We hope you will take some time and look at the smaller parks and stay at a couple to compare them and your experiences with them to the others. They need visitors and campers too and we really don’t want to lose even one of our State Parks to budget cuts.

For instance, Ross Prairie Campground is an equestrian camping area next to the Ross Prairie State Forest and is part of the Florida Greenways and Trails System. It is not officially a state park but it is a great place to go camping. We visited this campground twice last year and found that through-out the most of the year there are always spaces available. They have only 15 reservable sites but they are all pull-throughs with water and electric and long for larger rigs. When you go on Reserve America do not put the length on your search. For some reason that doesn’t work on this particular campground. When we visited the first time there were no equestrian campers but on our second visit they had a few traveling through for a horse show that weekend. There are lots of trails to hike, bike or even ride a horse. The bathhouse was fairly nice but getting a little old and could use some refurbishing. There is shopping, medical facilities and restaurants within 10 miles of the park entrance.

Myakka Outpost Complex inside Myakka River State Park
Myakka Outpost Complex inside Myakka River State Park
Where we are staying now is Myakka River State Park. It has over 30,000 acres with three campgrounds with about 100 campsites; walking, hiking, boating, canoeing, fishing, tram tours, air-boat tours, a restaurant, gift shop in the ranger station and concession building, bike rentals, canoe rentals, and even cabins to rent. They have concerts about once a month, camper coffee social hours, free WIFI available at the restaurant, picnic tables everywhere as well as two playgrounds, one near the south entrance and one at the north. During the peak season (January to March) they have over 50 volunteers who live and work here along with all the rangers and maintenance personnel. They have their own museum and visitors center as well. They have guest authors and ranger led programs at various times throughout the month. As you can see there is a lot going on in the park and so far it has stayed packed with campers and day visitors the entire time we have been here. They make a lot of money during this time but because of the State Park rules everything that they collect goes to the main park fund in Tallahassee. They are only allowed a certain amount for their budget and the remaining funds are used to support the other, smaller parks.

This is a good and a bad thing. Personally, I think that the bigger parks should be allowed to keep a percentage of their earnings to help improve their facilities and hire more people. They don’t have a lot of volunteers during the summer months so the rangers will have to do more cleaning, mowing, etc. and less visitor interaction. Yes, the smaller, less financially solvent parks do need help from their bigger brothers but we hope that with more publicity and the “powers that be” allowing them to create more money-making educational programs then these smaller parks can become more self-sufficient. They really don’t have an incentive to become fiscally active with the current system in place.

Fall Festival at Dade Battlefield
Fall Festival at Dade Battlefield
We would also like to see them create more Residential Host positions in the smaller parks to assist the rangers throughout the year. For a small amount of money and a little bit of land in the park the Department of Environment Protection (those in charge of our state parks) could build RV campsites at every single state park in the system somewhere near their maintenance shops or ranger stations and allow at least two couples to stay 2 to 4 months and do some of the cleaning, lawn maintenance and repairs and even man the gatehouse to ensure that the entrance fees are collected from every visitor (you would be surprised at how many of the “locals” come into the parks and don’t pay at the honor stations), in exchange the Rangers would be free to start more educational programs about the park, its history and just to be more available. If the park doesn’t have a Gatehouse at the entrance then they should be allowed to build one. Dade Battlefield Historic State Park is a perfect example of this. They have educational programs every month, Ranger led talks and demonstrations, have RV campsites for 6 Residential hosts and were just starting to have the volunteers man the booths every weekend. But, sadly, the State wants them to cut down on Residential Hosts positions and have more money-making programs throughout the month. They will not be able to do that with only two rangers, a manager and a volunteer coordinator.

That’s all from my soap box for now. Think about some of the things we have talked about, make sure you make reservations ahead of time for camping in the parks and start visiting more of the smaller parks!