Florida parks increase visitors after drop in previous year

Honeymoon Island State Park

Maybe the slow economy is encouraging people to rediscover nature. Or maybe the weather just was more inviting this past year.

For whatever reasons, attendance at Florida state parks increased slightly in 2010-11 following a sharp dip the previous year, according to state park officials.

Park attendance in fiscal year 2010-11 increased to 20.4 million, up 332,191 from 2009-10 for an increase of 1.6 percent. The increase comes despite the 2010 BP oil spill that discouraged beach tourism along with the continuing economic malaise.

Last year, park attendance dropped by 1.3 million, or 6.7 percent, from 2009-11.

Park officials last year said they couldn’t explain the decrease. But the change followed the Legislature increasing park entrance fees from 40 to 60 percent in 2009.

The fee increase also resulted in a 20-percent increase in entrance fee collection despite the decline in attendance. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection requested the fee increase in 2009, saying it would help park visitors pay more of the cost of running state parks.

Another possible factor in the drop last year may have led to the increase this year — weather.

Last year, record cold temperatures gripped the state during the winter and early spring of 2010. Much of the decline in visitation last year occurred at beach parks listed among the 10 most popular in the state.

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com . Do not redistribute without permission.