- 2014 - January - 8th -

Bill would give lawmakers say on park monuments

By Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida

Responding to outrage over a proposed Union Civil War monument on land donated to the state park system by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a powerful lawmaker has filed a bill that would give the Legislature the final say over such matters. 

House Judiciary Chairman Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, filed the measure (HB 493) on Monday, fulfilling a promise he made at a Lake City hearing last month over the placement of a Union memorial at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. 

The park, in the Osceola National Forest near Lake City, is the site of the largest Civil War battle in Florida history, a Confederate victory on Feb. 20, 1864. 

Last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees state parks, received a proposal from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to add a monument specifically for Union officers and soldiers. DEP put the proposal through its usual vetting process, approved it and scheduled a public hearing to discuss possible locations within a three-acre site.

However, public reaction in Lake City focused on the question of placing a Union memorial on that particular three acres, which the United Daughters of the Confederacy had acquired for the state in 1909 and had administered as a state park until 1949.

Olustee became the first Florida state park in 1912. Each February, a re-enactment of the battle is staged there on the anniversary. Scenes for Civil War movies have been filmed during the reenactments; Grzelak has appeared in "North/South," "Glory," "Andersonville" and others.

And because Feb. 20 will be the 150th anniversary of the battle, this year's re-enactment event will be bigger than ever. 

"It probably pumps $2 (million) or $3 million into the local economy," Grzelak said, estimating that 2,000 people play roles in the re-enactment and 20,000 to 30,000 come to watch. "We've had people come over from Germany and England." 

Attempts at a compromise on where to place the Union marker are underway, said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, a Lake City Republican.

Porter said representatives of DEP's state parks division have been working with the U.S. Forest Service on a proposal to place the Union marker on federal forest land.

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