Tallahassee Community College’s proposal to sublease part of Wakulla Springs State Park for its newly formed Wakulla Environmental Institute has been met with some opposition. The Florida Department of Environmental Education will host a workshop Tuesday to hear public comment on the issue.
The Institute, which submitted the proposal to the DEP in May, is requesting to sublease 2,000 acres of the park. The Institute’s Executive Director, Bob Ballard, says, if approved, the site will be used to train aspiring park rangers as part of new degree programs in parks and recreation and forestry management.
“The 2,000 acres that we’re requesting from the Florida Park Service, we need that to use as a training ground on how to restore forests that are, have been totally unmanaged,” says Ballard.
The 2,000 acres in question is an area off Highway 61 known as Cherokee Sink, which was clear cut 35 years ago and is now a popular swimming location. Ballard says the Institute hopes to develop the land into a public campground, which would also provide hospitality experience for students in the new degree program.
“In order to have a full-fledged well-rounded park ranger, we need to train them on all aspects of being a park ranger,” he says, “not just the land management part, but also the hospitality part.”
But some are concerned about the environmental implications of the proposed campground. Rodney DeHan, chairman of the Wakulla Springs Alliance, says the parcel of land is particularly vulnerable to pollution.
“The objectives can be achieved elsewhere without threatening or changing the designated or intended use of this conservation land,” DeHan says.
The Wakulla Springs Alliance recently voiced its opposition to the sublease proposal in a letter to the DEP.
According to Park Manager Peter Scalco, developments of this scale on the state-owned park property are unusual. He says the plan has not been endorsed by the DEP yet, and the process of approval is just beginning.
“It’s a whole process. You don’t just approve concepts and say, ‘Let us know when you’re done,’” Scalco says. “Each step of the way has to be reviewed and approved.”
He says the voice of the public will not go unheard. The DEP will host a workshop to present details on the sublease proposal and hear feedback from the public. The workshop will be held at Tallahassee's Woodville Community Center, 8000 Old Woodville Road, on Tuesday at 7 p.m.