You may not have heard of Barrier Island Parks Society but this group has become a very valuable asset for our beach area state parks: Stump Pass Beach State Park, Don Pedro State Park, Cayo Costa State Park, and Gasparilla Island State Park with the Port Boca Lighthouse and Museum. Barrier Island Park Society (BIPS) is a 501(c)3 non-profit Citizen Support Organization, one of the largest in Florida. They support the state parks by providing funding for park projects and volunteer hours to supplement the lack in the parks’ state funding. Their mission is to “Inspire, Educate, Preserve.”
BIPS members and Friends want to preserve the natural landscape and historic treasures of the parks they are affiliated with. They act as stewards in the hope that these areas will be enjoyed by future generations.
The idea was conceptualized in 1989 by Marnie Banks, editor of the Boca Beacon, who wanted to restore the Boca Grande Lighthouse that became active in 1890 and turn it into a museum full of Charlotte Harbor history. She and other local citizens learned that the best way to achieve this was by forming a Citizens Support Organization. This was successfully done and the museum provides a glimpse of what life was like throughout the early history of Gasparilla Island. Another restoration project that was successfully completed more recently by BIPS was the Gasparilla Island Lighthouse. It took years of perseverance through the process of getting the Coast Guard Lighthouse decommissioned and turned over to BIPS so it could be restored, followed by raising the funds to do so. It is now open to the public for scheduled lighthouse climbs. Future plans include creating museums on Cayo Costa and in the Amory Memorial Chapel at Gasparilla Island State Park.
Another part of the BIPS mission is to educate the public about the wonderful and fragile ecosystem that exists around us. They offer wading adventures to identify marine life, specialized educational programs, interpretative displays, forums on subjects such as Red Tide and water pollution and act as docents at the Port Boca Museum. Volunteers act as beach ambassadors, answering questions and educating the public on the environment.
The group receives no government funding and it raises the funds used to benefit the state parks by operating two retail shops, one in the Boca Grande Lighthouse museum and a camp store on Cayo Costa. Donations, BIPS membership dues, grants obtained from various groups and partners such as Mote Marine, Coastal Wildlife Club and Lee County Tourism Bureau enable the group to carry out park enhancement and educational projects.
There are currently two “Friends” groups: one for Cayo Costa State Park and one for Stump Pass Beach State Park. These groups raise money for those state parks and undertake various projects and tasks to assist in the preservation and maintenance of the parks.
There are many volunteer opportunities that anyone who wants to help BIPS in its mission to preserve, educate and conserve the environment and history of the lighthouses and four state parks. Consider becoming a docent/tour guide, record keeper, grant writer, gift shop clerk, museum greeter, program speaker/guide, photographer or maintenance worker.
BIPS partners with Gasparilla Island Administration (GIA,) the park office and reports to the state of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. There are nine full and part time staff members and a board of directors. Sharon McKenzie is the executive director. She is seeking members of the public to share their stories of the barrier islands and any photos they have to help fill in the gaps in this area’s history.
You can learn more about BIPS at barrierislandparkssociety.org or by calling 964•0060.