Nonprofit launches campaign to save Castle Rock and Portola Redwoods State Parks

Castle Rock State Park, photo by Scott Haefner at scotthaefner.com
Castle Rock State Park, photo by Scott Haefner at scotthaefner.com

Today, the nonprofit Portola and Castle Rock Foundation launched a campaign to save Portola Redwoods State Park and Castle Rock State Park. The parks are hiking distance to California’s oldest state park: Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where the near obliteration of ancient redwoods south of San Francisco by the year 1900 led to an outcry and movement to save old growth forests as public parks.

Portola Redwoods and Castle Rock are among 18 state parks in the Bay Area and 70 across the state identified in May 2011 for closure by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, also known as “California State Parks.”

At 2,800 acres, Portola Redwoods features a deep canyon filled with first- and second-growth coast redwoods and creeks flowing along fault lines to form waterfalls and small pools. Castle Rock spans 5,400 acres, saddling one of the highest ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains and creating a rock wonderland for geologists and rock climbers. The park’s namesake is a sandstone formation rising 80 feet above the ridgetop.

Portola Redwoods State Park photo by Bruce da Moose
Portola Redwoods State Park, Panoramio photo by Bruce da Moose

Among park champions across the state, stepping up to save the parks, are nonprofit groups that have worked side-by-side with state parks in local communities for decades to support education programs and stewardship.

As an official cooperating association of the state parks, the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation’s imperative now is to protect the parks they have supported since 1991. Their status as a 501(c)3 charitable organization allows them to raise tax-deductible donations from the public.

Fundraising to save the parks using Coe park as a model

The foundation’s goal is to raise funds to negotiate a deal with the Parks Department in the same way park advocates are working out an agreement to fund Henry W. Coe State Park – earmarking donations for the parks and keeping park staff in their positions.

It was the campaign at Coe that inspired the Portola Redwoods and Castle Rock Foundation to take action. “We were motivated by Coe’s success,” said Andy Vought, a board member and spokesperson for the foundation. “We want to follow their model since it is something the state appears to be OK with, and it provides us a manageable scope.” They are expecting Coe to announce a final deal with the Parks Department any day now.

To keep the parks open and staffed for one year, the foundation needs to raise a minimum of $500,000, in a very narrow window of time. Beyond this initial goal, they will continue to raise funds since the foundation believes that the state’s current budget crisis is unlikely to end any time soon. The group estimates that keeping Portola and Castle Rock Parks open for three years will require more than $1,500,000.

Although these are challenging goals, the foundation believes that Bay Area corporations, foundations and citizens will step up. Judy Grote, President of the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation, said: “I encourage everyone who has ever enjoyed these wonderful parks to join this campaign now. We need to raise funds in the next few months or we will lose these park jewels forever.

Climber at Castle Rock State Park, Flickr photo by Raul Diaz
Climber at Castle Rock State Park, Flickr photo by Raul Diaz

State’s oldest conservation groups and climbing guides join coalition to save parks

Sempervirens Fund and Save the Redwoods League also joined the campaign. These nonprofits have raised funds and pursued the acquisition of lands to be preserved for the public in perpetuity – adding thousands of acres to the state park system.

Saved by Sempervirens since 1900 mapPreserving endangered redwoods was one of the first motives for establishing the first few state parks in California.

Sempervirens Fund, originally established in 1900 as Sempervirens Club, organized the movement to preserve the old-growth forest that became Big Basin Redwoods State Park in 1902, before the establishment of the state park system. The Fund also helped establish Castle Rock State Park in 1968. Since 1968, Sempervirens Fund has completed 35 transactions, funded by public, adding over 4,000 acres within the Castle Rock’s planning area.

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has led the effort to protect the coast redwoods and giant sequoias. To date the League has completed the purchase of more than 189,000 acres of redwood forest and associated land. In 1927 a coalition of citizens, led by the Save-the-Redwoods League, campaigned for a state park bill. With unanimous approval by the legislature, Governor C.C. Young signed the bill into law in the same year.

The fourth partner in the coalition is Adventure Out, a state park authorized climbing guide at Castle Rock whose business will suffer if Castle Rock State Park closes.

If people don’t stand up, the parks will close

The state of California has already started to lock the gates on state parks slated for closure due to budget cutbacks – possibly closing them permanently. The Parks Department does not think many on the list of 70 will make it. Regions like the Bay Area have the advantage of being close to a large population, many with a passion for the outdoors and our parks.

Parks on the closure list can only survive if “people stand up and put their money and time” behind saving them, said Vought.

The Portola and Castle Rock Foundation needs donations and volunteers to get the word out through a public outreach campaign. You can find them online at www.portolaandcastlerockfound.org and on Facebook at Save Portola Redwoods and Castle Rock State Parks.

Blog series
This is the 16th article in a series on threats to California State Parks and the search for sustainable funding.