Attendance at Florida state parks increased for the second straight year in fiscal year 2011-12 following a decrease three years ago.
The number of visitors to the 160 state parks increased by 3.4 percent, from 20.4 million in 2010-11 to 21.1 million this past fiscal year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said Thursday (Aug. 9).
A DEP spokeswoman said the increase could be because of many factors including the affordability of parks, good weather in 2011 with no major tropical storms, and work with tourism partners including Visit Florida, the Florida Current reported.
“From coast to coast, the Florida Park Service offers nature-based recreation and environmental resource protection at its best,” DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said in a news release.
The statewide record for park attendance was set in 2008-09 with 21.4 million visitors.
The 3.7 percent increase this year and a 1.6 percent increase in 2010-11 followed a 6 percent decline in 2009-10.
The decline followed park admission fee increases ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent in 2009. The park system collected more revenue in 2009-10 — $52.7 million compared to $43.6 million in 2008-09.
State Park officials said in 2010 they didn’t know why attendance had declined but they pointed out that the record cold winter also coincided with decreased attendance at popular beach state parks in South Florida.
Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin was the most popular state park in 2011-12 for the sixth year in a row with 1,089,588 visitors. Rounding out the top five were Gasparilla Island State Park in Boca Grande, St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, Lovers Key State Park in Fort Myers Beach and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.