Dade Battlefield Park: A push to spark attendance

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By Bob Reichman

Earlier this year, Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell was headed for the chopping block.
State legislators had considered closing a number of state parks throughout Florida in an attempt to cut costs as they prepared the state budget. Dade Park was on the list of parks recommended for closure based on its limited amount of visitors.
While the state parks avoided closure, the close call was enough to set local park supporters into high gear to grow the number of people who visit the park.
To that end, a number of activities have been held at the picturesque location. Most recently, the park hosted a Blast From the Past, a classic car show. A month before, the Dade Battlefield Society, a group of park supporters and the organizers of the annual Dade Battle reenactment held at the end of the year, provided a Bluegrass Festival and arts and crafts show aimed at attracting people to the grounds.
“We work together with the society on events,” said Park Ranger Bruce Whiting.
The idea is to create awareness of the park and to increase attendance, he said.
“With the new events we’re providing, we’re getting people from right here in Bushnell that didn’t event know the park was here,” he said. “Where also getting people from The Villages who didn’t know we were here.”
The plan to increase attendance is working. Whiting said that the number of visitors to the park has increased about 17 percent daily over last year.
Additionally, a fledgling group is being launched to garner additional interest and support.
Friends of Dade Battlefield will have its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 17, at Dade Lodge, inside the park grounds.
The meeting is opened to anyone interested in supporting the park and assisting with upcoming events.
Whiting said many people aren’t aware that there’s more to the park than trees and picnic benches.
The facility also offers a museum providing historical artifacts and information about the First Seminole War and other historic events, a lodge with a seating capacity for 96 people with kitchen facilities that are available for rent, hiking trails and outdoor areas are also available to rent for weddings and other events.
For more information about the park, call 793-4781.
The park is a few blocks west of Main Street in Bushnell, off County Road 476, on Battlefield Drive.