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Wekiwa Springs State Park puts out call for volunteers

While it’s the theme parks that attract the vast majority of Central Florida’s tourism dollars, it’s state parks that many locals take advantage of.

One, however, is in dire need of help.

Before the pandemic, the Wekiva Springs State Park, through the Wekiva Wilderness Trust, had more than 600 volunteers. Currently, officials say there are at about 150.

For more than a decade Debbie Lafreniere has volunteered more than 10,000 hours at the Wekiwa Springs State Park.

“We’re suppose to make sure we log in all the care we are giving these animals,” Lafreniere said, while working in the nature center. “I am getting ready to change this for the month.”

When Lafreniere is at the park, she can be found caring for turtles and snakes at the nature center — making sure animals are fed and their areas are operating properly.

She also can be found educating park goers on some of the state park's native residents.

“I like pointing visitors in the right direction,” Lafreniere said holding a turtle. “We don’t have a visitor center, so this kind of is used as one.”

Now, the park officials say they need more people like Lafreniere, who have time and a trade to bring. They say state parks rely on organizations like the Wekiva Wilderness Trust to stay operational and functioning.

“Park volunteers put in about 1.2 million hours a year across the state,” Wekiva Wildness Trust president Don Philpott said. “The state recognizes that at about a $22-per-hour value. So you are looking at about a $25 million dollar value volunteers bring to the state park.”

Officials say the 42,000-acre park could use help across the board — from trail clearers and mechanics, to plumbers and guides.

“It’s something we need to all help share in maintaining,” Lafreniere said. “Because they are really under staffed.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the Wekiva Wilderness Trust at the organizations website.