| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Volusia County voters have an opportunity this November to shape our quality of life and protect important natural resources into the future. Voters will be asked whether to extend Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO, both popular programs set to expire next year. These award-winning initiatives have protected important wildlife habitat and funded facilities for arts, culture, historic preservation, and outdoor recreation. Renewal of these programs is essential as we continue to grow.
Over the last 20 years, Volusia Forever has permanently protected over 38,000 acres, including much of the Volusia Conservation Corridor and Spruce Creek Preserve, and provided public access to rivers, lakes, and springs. Continuing this visionary effort will allow completion of the Conservation Corridor and provide resources to protect areas essential to our water supply and the water quality of our springs, rivers, lakes and estuaries. Over the last two decades, Volusia County’s population has grown by 20%, and over the next 20 years is forecast to grow by another 100,000 people. It is essential that we protect our remaining special areas from conversion to sprawl.
While Volusia Forever has protected our environment, Volusia ECHO has been good for our soul. Since 2001, ECHO – which stands for Environmental, Cultural, Historic and Outdoors – has funded 241 projects that have helped build or improve museums, cultural and arts facilities, restored historic sites, and provided enhanced opportunities for outdoor recreation throughout the county. The long list includes:
- Environmental projects like Lyonia Environmental Learning Center and Marine Discovery Center;
- Cultural projects like the Museum of Arts and Sciences, Gateway Center for the Arts, and African American Museum;
- Historic preservation projects such as Barberville Pioneer Arts Settlement and the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse; and
- Outdoor recreation projects such as Coraci Sports Complex and Jackie Robinson Ballpark.
Attendance records show that ECHO-funded facilities host over 600,000 visitors each year and many more enjoy the 70 miles of improved trails throughout the county.
The ballot questions will allow for reauthorization of Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO for another 20 years. Since this is a continuation of an existing program, there will be no increase in taxes. Continuation of both programs ensures greater opportunities for public access and enjoyment.
More: Why Volusia Forever, ECHO programs are good for business
Why do we need to extend these programs? Protection of land essential for our drinking water supplies and water quality is vital as we continue to grow. But we have also learned during this special time that we need more places to safely go outdoors. We have learned to appreciate our museums, cultural facilities, trails, and other outdoor recreation facilities more than ever. As our population grows, we will need more natural areas protected and demand for outdoor recreation and cultural and arts facilities will increase. Taken as a whole, these are the things that make Volusia County special, and protect our quality of life.
Volusia County voters approved the first in the nation program to acquire environmentally endangered lands. Volusia voters also contributed to the overwhelming victory of Amendment 1, known as Florida Forever, that now provides hundreds of millions of dollars for land conservation. But going forward, we’ll need local money to take advantage of the state matching dollars. To let our local program expire will mean lost opportunities to protect places we love.
In this time of political division, it has been reassuring to see the broad range of support for continuing these programs. It’s not every day that the Audubon Society and the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce are locked in agreement or that the city commissions of Deltona, New Smyrna Beach, and Daytona Beach back Volusia County programs. It’s great to see Team Volusia, Midtown Community Development, and VCARD recognize these quality of life programs enhance our economic wellbeing. It’s reassuring to see the venerable League of Women Voters endorse these worthy measures. These programs touch all of us and our families, and are a lasting legacy for those to come.
Between now and election day, many candidates will ask for your vote and promise to make your lives better than they are today. Voting for Volusia Forever and ECHO is a rare and tangible opportunity to vote your own personal interest to further protect your quality of life.