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Volunteers, citizen supporters help power local parks

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By Sean Arnold

The Chiefland Chamber of Commerce meeting Jan. 26 boasted an exceptional turnout, thanks to all of the volunteers and supporters for the local parks in attendance.

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With Manatee Springs State Park as the meeting co-sponsor, guest speaker Mark Abrizenski, the park manager for Manatee Springs and Fanning Springs State Park and the Nature Coast State Trail (NCST), took the opportunity to highlight the contributions of park volunteers and the Friends of Manatee Springs, Inc. And to illustrate that level of support, he invited those individuals – and the park rangers – whose work is so critical to the parks’ functioning.

The Gathering Table co-sponsored the meeting and catered lunch.

It was the first meeting with new Chamber president Dr. Bennitt Patterson at the helm, as well as the first with new executive director Joy Parker. More than 50 attendees filled the room at the Haven Hospice Community Center.

Patterson announced the annual Citizen of the Year banquet, normally held in February, has been pushed back to April 21, adding that he hopes to build up the banquet attendance to past heights.

Abrizenski reported the latest economic numbers concerning the parks, noting that Manatee, Fanning and the NCST combined to have an economic impact of $62 million in the Tri-County Area last year, with 671,291 visitors. The impact in Chiefland alone was just under $29 million, he said, an increase of more than $3 million from the previous year.

Abrizenski outlined the work of the Friends of Manatee Springs, Inc., a Citizen Support Organization (CSO) that helps supplement resources for the parks, primarily through selling wood to park campers and selling CSO memberships. The memberships are $15 per person and $30 per family, and include 12 free passes to Manatee or Fanning for the year, a $72 value.

The CSO helps represent the parks at events such as the Trunk-or-Treats, the Chiefland Christmas parade, the Fanning Spring water ski show, an egg hunt, the Fanning Springs festival of lights and the Tour de Melon. Last year, the Friends provided $20,000 of equipment to the parks and volunteered for more than 10,000 hours.

“Without the CSO,” Abrizenski said, “the volunteers would be still wheelbarrowing ashes for more than 80 sites and the Parks and Trail would still be riding around on 20-year-old lawnmowers.”

The park manager added that the Friends efforts free up park rangers for more work on restoration projects and interpretive, educative programs, “which creates lovers of our parks, who return to this area again.”

Of the volunteers, Abrizenski said, “These are folks that travel here and come to work, 20 hours a week, doing the dirty work of the park.

“And they do it with a smile, and they really do make it happen.”

For more on the Parks, call (352) 493-6072, or visit the Friends of Manatee Springs, Inc. Facebook page @HelpingManateeSpringsParks.