Sunday, Sep 21, 2014
Local News

Legislative bill raises concerns of park supporters


Published:

SEBRING - When Highlands Hammock State Park Manager Brian Pinson figured the park needed a new tractor last year, he didn't seek extra funding from the state.

"If we had to wait for the state, it would never happen," he said.

Instead, the Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park, the park's Citizen Support Organization (CSO), not only met that need but invested $84,000 into the park during the past year, said its president Mike Jarvis.

Out of 171 state parks, Highlands Hammock is one of 60 that has a CSO, Pinson said. Other departments in state government also have these groups.

Now, some supporters are concerned a bill in the state Legislature, Florida House Bill 1153 and a companion bill in the state Senate, could negatively affect these groups.

Concerns were raised on the Facebook page for the Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park and Sunday evening before the start of a tram tour.

The bill, which apparently at the very least requires CSOs to do more paperwork, has passed through committees in the Senate and was to have been heard today in a House committee.

Pinson said he's aware some people higher up in the Department of Environmental Protection have raised concerns the bill will affect the CSOs.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said she hasn't decided how she'll vote on the bill when it comes to the Senate floor. She said she's waiting for more information on the concerns raised.

According to a legislative summary, the bill would require all CSOs to publicly report information.

Jarvis said he doesn't believe that would be a problem since the Friends of Highlands Hammock spend all their money to support the park.

The bill summary also states that CSOs of the Division of Recreation and Parks would expire as of Oct. 1, 2019, unless the Legislature allows them to continue.

Ultimately, Pinson said, the parks and other state programs must live with what the Legislature decides, but the Friends of Highlands Hammock have provided crucial support when the park needed new equipment and the money wasn't available from the state.

The uncertainty comes at a time when the Friends of Hammock State Park have worked to increase the number of public activities that raise money for the park. Those have included monthly concerts, tram tours at night that allow people to see fireflies and other creatures, and a Halloween event.

Pinson said even more events are being planned.

jmeisel@highlandstoday.com

(863) 386-5834

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