Guided Ranger Tours, Educational Programs In Florida National Parks Underwritten By South Florida National Parks Trust

More evidence of the value of national park friends groups can be seen in Florida, where the South Florida National Parks Trust is underwriting environmental education programs, ranger-guided tours, and resource protection projects in the parks.

The Trust has agreed to provide $175,000 to support that programming at Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas national parks, as well as in Big Cypress National Preserve, said Neal McAliley, the organization's chairman.

The funding includes $35,000 to restore the Turner River, one of the longest and most scenic rivers in Big Cypress National Preserve. The SFNPT grant will support a two-year Big Cypress project to fill portions of the Turner River Canal and direct more water into the river’s natural channel, resulting in a more pristine river and a better paddling experience for the public. The Turner River is one of the most popular paddling destinations in the Big Cypress.

The grants approved by the SFNPT board also include:

* $8,500 to support the Alternative Break program for college students at Biscayne National Park. The students volunteer during spring and winter breaks to clean debris from park beaches so that sea turtles can reach the beach to nest during turtle season. More than 200 students from 18 colleges participated in the program last year.

* $10,000 to support two Big Cypress programs: the Swamp Water and Me Program (SWAMP), the preserve’s signature environmental education program for sixth-grade science students, and the Swamp Heritage Festival, an annual celebration of the history and culture of the Big Cypress, to be held this year on Saturday December 7.

* $25,500 to promote better stewardship of Florida Bay in Everglades National Park through community outreach, education and enhanced law enforcement on the water.

* $10,000 to support a new season of public tours at the historic Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park and to recruit more volunteers for projects throughout the park.

* $30,000 to hire two student interns to work at Dry Tortugas National Park during turtle nesting season to monitor nesting activity and hatching success in the park.

* $22,500 to promote safe boating in Biscayne National Park through community outreach, education, and a series of public classes to prevent boat groundings in the park.

* $10,000 to develop a series of bilingual podcasts on Biscayne National Park’s four ecosystems: the park’s mangrove shoreline, its coral reefs, the northern-most islands of the Florida Keys, and Biscayne Bay itself.

In addition to these projects, the SFNPT approved five other grants to support a variety of public programs and projects in South Florida’s national parks, including:

* A community ranger to deliver public programs at local libraries, community centers and other venues, organize park activities, and attend fairs, festivals and other events to share information with the public about South Florida’s national parks.

* Environmental education programs that bring South Florida school children to Biscayne National Park for classroom field trips and overnight camping programs.

* The Tamiami Trail Triathlon, a park program that encourages visitors to complete three activities (a bike ride, a hike and a canoe trip) in two parks to become a park triathlete.

* The Camping Adventure with My Parents (CAMP) program, a ranger-guided camping program that introduces local families from underserved communities to the Everglades.

The South Florida National Parks Trust was established in 2002 to support South Florida’s national parks – Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve – through fund-raising and community outreach.

Since its inception the SFNPT has provided more than $5 million in direct support to South Florida’s four national parks to support projects and programs in five areas: environmental education, resource protection, visitor services, volunteer activities and community outreach.