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Gamble, Terra Ceia parks on close list

MANATEE -- Two Manatee County state parks are on the chopping block in a Department of Environmental Protection cost-cutting proposal.

Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton and Terra Ceia State Park Preserve in Palmetto are two of 53 state parks that could be closed under the plan, presented Wednesday to the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Like other state government departments, the DEP was asked to prepare a proposal to cut 15 percent of its budget for next fiscal year. The state is facing an estimated $4 billion budget shortfall.

According to DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller, the parks were chosen because of low attendance during the 2009-10 season and lack of camping facilities.

“Governor (Rick) Scott has not released his recommended budget and the Legislature has not acted on the fiscal year 2011-2012 budget yet, so the proposed closures are still just that, proposed,” Miller said in an e-mail statement.

Kevin Kiser, the park manager at Gamble and Terra Ceia, referred questions to the DEP. He said Gamble Plantation welcomed 53,119 visitors during 2009-10, while Terra Ceia attracted 6,676 visitors.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, is a member of the subcommittee that heard the DEP’s proposals. He said the park closure proposal has not yet been signed off by DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard.

“It’s a bit premature to even suggest that’s going to happen,” Boyd said of the closures.

“Our commission had quite a bit of conversation about that. ... The jury is still out on it.”

Boyd said lawmakers will do their best to avoid closing parks. According to the Audubon of Florida, subcommittee members suggested asking local governments to take over control of the parks or having the state sell them.

“One of our largest economic drivers is tourism,” Boyd said, “and tourists enjoy our parks. There was quite a bit of concern from our committee.”

In 2009, the DEP proposed closing 58 parks, including Gamble and Terra Ceia, for three days per week as a cost-saving measure.

This past year, officials proposed restricting public access to some parks. Neither proposal was approved, but maintenance funds for state parks were slashed more than 80 percent.

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