State Parks Still on the Chopping Block
By Beth Gunston
California League of Conservation Voters
A few months ago I set a new personal goal: get into nature at least once a week. It really didn’t matter what I ended up doing as long as it took me outdoors – hike, trail run, rock climb, wildlife watch, camp, picnic, paddle, soak, swim, sunbathe, backpack, photograph wildflowers...You get the idea.
And what a grand idea it was! Not only have I enjoyed doing all of those activities, but I’ve also gotten to explore Californian parks that I previously knew little about, if at all.
My guess is that you have a story similar to mine – a love for California’s vast and varied open spaces and all that they have to offer. After all, it’s hard to live in such a beautiful state and not get out and enjoy its natural features in one form or another.
And now, here's the bad news: many of these treasured open spaces may not be accessible much longer.
Last year Governor Brown called for the closure of 70 state parks. Included on the the hit list are parks that I’ve fallen in love with like Henry Coe State Park where you can hike amongst old oaks and madrones to a picturesque swimming hole, and Castle Rock State Park where I first began rock climbing.
This week park funding came back into the news with Governor Brown’s release of the May budget revise. Not only are parks still on the table for closure, but the revised budget proposes more cuts to the funding of game wardens, rangers, and lifeguards.
Those cuts come at a time where the State Park System is already understaffed and overburdened with deferred maintenance totaling to over $1 billion. Furthermore, these parks suffer from the pains of a tightened budget as access prices increase, hours of operation diminish, and select facilities, trails, or camping areas close.
What doesn’t make sense is this: continued cuts to the State Park System will not save money, but will in fact cost the state more in the long run. Closing parks means:
- a loss of revenue for local communities neighboring parks and for the state via taxes generated by tourism;
- increases in deferred maintenance once the parks reopen their gates; and
- costs associated with addressing crime, vandalism, and other illegal activities like marijuana cultivation.
While some of the parks on the closure list have found ways to stay open thanks to financial support from their communities or intervention from nonprofits (including Castle Rock and Henry Coe SPs), others have not been so lucky.
Fortunately, Assemblymember Jared Huffman is championing a bill that would provide diverse funding for the State Parks System. Assembly Bill 1589, the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, addresses short- and long-term needs for California state parks, achieving budget savings without wide scale park closures.
Specifically, AB 1589 would:
- Encourage formation of a state compact that guarantees an ongoing level of state funding for operations and maintenance of state parks.
- Create a State Park Enterprise Fund to be used for installing modern revenue and fee collection equipment and technologies to increase park visitation and revenues.
- Produce a California state park environmental license plate which vehicle owners could purchase and have the fees go towards support of state parks.
- Provide the option for taxpayers to voluntarily purchase an annual state park access pass when they file their taxes.
- Require the Department of Parks and Recreation to be more transparent about how it evaluates and selects specific parks for closure, and places a cap of 25 state park units on the number of park closures allowed from 2012 to 2016 without legislative approval.
Beth Gunston is the Campaigns and Outreach Manager for the California League of Conservation Voters.