Gasparilla Island State Park attendance ranks No. 2 among all Florida parks for the second year in a row, according to the Florida Park Service, Department of Environmental Protection.
Gasparilla Island State Park attendance rose 6 percent from 823,526 a year ago to 872,917 or an additional 49,391 visitors. The tourist rush, coupled with last year's 12 percent attendance increase, continues a two-year rediscovery of the slice of paradise accented by the big-game fishing in Boca Grande Pass.
DEP spokeswoman Jennifer Diaz said each state park manager tracks attendance over the year and reports to the state office at Tallahassee. Gasparilla Island Park manager Chad Lach reported the attendance, Diaz said.
"Every person in a car is counted so if there's eight people in the van that counts as eight - not just one car," Diaz said. "It's a beautiful park and (Lach is) really proud of it."
The only Florida state park to top Gasparilla Island's attendance is Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, which led all state parks for the sixth year in a row with 1,089,588.
Stump Pass of Englewood, one of four parks run with help from the Barrier Island Parks Society of Boca Grande, cracked the top 10 with 588,300 in attendance. Stump Pass jumped up from No. 11 a year ago by drawing 72,348 more visitors - a 14 percent boost.
All four BIPS interests combined - Gasparilla Island, Stump Pass, Cayo Costa and Don Pedro - drew an estimated 1,573,549 visitors, according to Lach.
Each state park without a ranger station uses the same formula to determine their number of visitors, said Lach: Multiply the number of honor envelopes six times, then multiply the sum 2.5 times to come up with the estimated number of visitors.
"The ranking is accurate and the state parks do indeed, bring in an enormous amount of visitors to our state, our county and our local community," McKenzie said. "We are very proud to support all four of our affiliated parks."
Nearly 25 million people visited state park and trail properties in fiscal 2011, according to the Florida Park Service. State parks received about 700,000 more visitors last year than in the previous year, totaling more than 21.1 million.
Another 3.8 million people hiked state trails, which are now part of the Florida Park Service.
"From coast to coast, the Florida Park Service offers nature-based recreation and environmental resource protection at its best," said Department Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. in a press release.
"Florida State Parks and Trails are affordable, safe places for families and friends to enjoy and learn about Florida's diverse natural resources," said Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione in a press release. "From fishing and canoeing, hiking and touring a historic landmark, our 171 park properties have it all and so much more, any time of the year."