In the midst of old-growth live oak hammocks, wild orchids, and vistas of Lakes Wales Ridge in Lake Kissimmee State Park, Florida hikers may soon see signs boasting "Buster Island Loop, brought to you by Pollo Tropical."
Governor Rick Scott just approved a bill permitting advertising on state greenways and trails, which goes into effect July 1.
Sponsored by Sen. Stephen Wise, (R-Jacksonville), the original bill only permitted corporate signage on seven state trails: Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, Blackwater Heritage Trail, Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, Nature Coast State Trail, Withlacoochee State Trail, General James A. Van Fleet State Trail and the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail.
But a later amendment tweaked the bill's language so that the Department of Environmental Protection can place ads on any state trail.
The bill dictates that advertising will be restricted to signs no larger than 16 feet at trailheads and in parking lots. On trail public access points, ads must be smaller than 4 feet.
The bill also outlines a standard for how such signs can be worded: "[Name of sponsor]… proudly sponsors the costs of maintain the … [Name of greenway or trail]."
Despite language requiring that the signs "do not intrude on natural and historic settings," Scott's selling off of public land to the highest bidder has not been well received.
Bob Bowles, a trail master at Myakka River State Park, told the Bradenton Herald that the legislation diminishes the ultimate goal of hiking -- to enjoy a serene natural habitat, adding it's "not to feel like downtown Orlando or Tallahassee."
The National Park Service had long banned ads in U.S. parks. Spokesman David Bonner recently told NPR that "Once you say yes to some, where does it stop? You know, does it become billboards, neon signs? It's difficult."
When the Bush administration started making moves to allow advertising in national parks, a Zogby poll revealed that Americans were adamantly against it. It found that 3 in 4 Americans oppose corporate advertising on park brochures and vehicles and 84 percent oppose naming trails and park buildings after companies that paid for them.
Other states a have also made attempts at introducing corporate sponsorships to ease state park budget woes.
But as Neil Haring, Georgia Sierra Club lobbyist, told NPR: A park is a "place for people to get away from that. It's a refuge. That's why it's a park. You know, they it would be an amusement park if it was for advertising or a ballpark. There are parks where advertising is appropriate but state parks are not those parks."
Florida's recent legislation dictates that 85 percent of the profits from state park ads will go to upkeep of the greenways and trails and 15 percent will fund the Department of Transportation's Bicycle Safety Program.
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