Nine state parks saved of 70, others deserted

“California state parks belong to you, but not for long.”

That is the message of the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit supporting organization to California State Parks (Department of Parks and Recreation). On January 10, 2012, the foundation launched a public awareness campaign titled “Defend What’s Yours” with new videos.

Six months from now, at least 61 of California’s 278 state parks will close – from historic museums to lands that protect sensitive wildlife habitats and prehistoric Native Californian sites.

Some parks saved, others deserted

In a time when the sentiment of state government officials is to give the public what they are willing to pay for, parks have not been spared. Some state parks have already been abandoned – particularly those in rural, remote and low income areas. As the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog notes:

The parks located near populous areas may have a better chance of generating the kind of fundraising that will be needed to keep them open.

In “Twilight for a state park” published today in the Sacramento Bee, Susan Sward describes Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area as a “ghostly place.” Like many of the parks on the closure list in rural regions, Standish-Hickey does not have a partner to step up and save the park. After visiting the same park, blogger Lucy D’Mot considers how past land donors might feel about the closures:

I always wonder how the families of those who donated acreage to the state (country, city, county) feel when those lands come up for closure. I would think sadness, anger and betrayal might be part of the emotions involved …

Indeed, for more than 100 years conservationists and stewards of our natural and cultural heritage have raised funds and donated lands to save and protect special places in perpetuity for all Americans. What would the Tetons be without the Rockefellers, San Francisco’s Crissy Field without the Haas family, California’s last remaining redwoods without leadership from Save the Redwoods League — and the state park system without billions in voter-approved public bond funds from 1928 to 2000?

Another remote park, Castle Crags State Park near Mount Shasta, is also being deserted: “After nearly two decades, California has terminated its contract with a non-profit dedicated to the welfare of Castle Crags State Park,” writes MtShastaNews.com.

Nine parks saved and 47 “letters of interest”

So far, California State Parks has been willing to enter into agreements in situations when public agencies and donors step up with funds and commitments to keep specific parks open. It remains to be seen if the parks department will enter into operating agreements with nonprofit organizations, now authorized to run parks under the new law AB 42.

According to California State Parks spokesperson Roy Stearns, in early January the agency had received 47 “Letters of Interest” from various nonprofits, cooperating associations, cities and counties asking about what it would take to assume the operations of a park in their community. “We are working through all of those letters of interest to answer questions to see if the interest leads to a proposal,” wrote Stearns in an email.

As of January 4, 2012, Stearns reported that California State Parks confirmed agreements with nine parks for remaining open and operating:

  1. Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park – donor funds
  2. Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area – Operating agreement with the City of Colusa
  3. Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park – National Park Service agreement
  4. Henry W. Coe State Park – Donor, the Coe Park Preservation Fund
  5. McGrath State Beach – Donor funds and grant money
  6. Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve – Concession agreement for nonprofit Bodie Foundation to collect new parking fees will keep facilities open. California State Parks will continue to run the reserve.
  7. Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park – Ongoing concession/operating agreement
  8. Samuel P. Taylor State Park – National Park Service agreement
  9. Tomales Bay State Park – National Park Service Agreement

Senator introduces bill to require a formal review of park closures

In the meantime, on January 19, 2012, Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) introduced SB 974, a bill that would require the California Department of Parks and Recreation to conduct a formal review of park closures. In the press release, Evans writes: “I have a serious problem with Parks’ decisions. There has been no transparency, no public process, and no economic impact study. It appears arbitrary.”

SB 974 would require Parks to develop a formal and transparent process to examine potential closures using defined criteria. The legislation would also require that California State Parks examine other budget savings measures in lieu of closures.

Blog series
This is the 19th article in a series on threats to California State Parks and the search for sustainable funding. A special thanks goes to Roy Stearns of the California Department of Parks and Recreation for providing the latest information on parks saved from closure.