Last week Florida's Department of Environmental Protection made a proposal to a state government subcommittee. Asked to come up with a budget that is cut by 15% the DEP's proposal calls for the closing of 53 state parks. This is approximately 1 in 3 of the over 160 state parks. Florida has an excellent state park system, reflecting the outdoor recreation aspect of its tourist industry. Such an exercise apparently happens fairly regularly in the state (or so I'm told - I'm a relative newcomer). Government wants to slash DEP's budget, park closings are proposed, things work themselves out to a less dramatic conclusion.
However, given the current dire economic situation and equally dire 'governance situation' in this state, I am not so sanguine. And did I mention that one of the parks on the closure list is about half a mile from my house?
Most of the parks that are at risk are small, day use only facilities. Many of them are historical sites like the San Marcos de Apalache fort near the town of St. Marks about 20 miles due south of Tallahassee
or the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park to the SE of Tallahassee which has one of the few civil war battlefields in the state (and which I have yet to visit).
The park mentioned above the fold is Lake Jackson Mounds State Park. It is also primarily a historical park, although the history is far older and less documented than the exploits of European imperialists or the tragic conflict that festers still in this part of the world. The park preserves a vestige of an ancient world almost unimaginable today.
The park has been described as one of the most important archaeological sites in Florida. The site is thought to have been a regional chiefdom in the Fort Walton culture between 1000 and 1500 AD. Quite a few mounds were originally found in the area. Three remain in the park, others on nearby private land have been destroyed.
This is the largest mound in the park. The vegetation has somewhat obscured its artificiality.
Although time has made them appear part of the landscape it is still impressive to think of the effort made in building them.
I must confess that I visit the forest in the park more often than the mounds. It is a diverse woodland full of Magnolia, Pine, Hickory, Sweetgum, and Swamp Chestnut Oak. In the spring the forest floor is alive with Trillium and the streamside with ferns.
A clear sand-bottomed stream flows out of a steep head within the park. In the summer is alive with dark-winged damselflies and leopard frogs.
Although the stream was quiet yesterday it showed signs of a busy neighborhood.
A closer look
And a northern visitor to the mounds themselves
The park does show signs of its suburban surroundings. The understory is rife with invasive plans such as Coral Ardisia
And this Tradescantia which is also over-running my yard
If the park remains empty and unmaintained it is likely that the diversity of native species will plummet as the invasives take over.
Although not a place of dramatic natural beauty or spectacular wildlife like some other state parks this park, like many others on the closure list it is a precious fragment of vanished and vanishing world. The culture that built the mounds lasted longer than the entire history of Europeans in Florida. And today it is all but forgotten by the people who live nearby. The natural community that blanketed the hills and floodplains around Lake Jackson for many more centuries has dwindled to tiny remnants that grow less distinct each day. Better examples exist elsewhere. But elsewhere is not here. The park is a toe hold on the past and I can feel our fingers slipping.