How can residents of California save dozens of endangered state parks? Let us count the ways.
Since Gov. Jerry Brown announced in May that 70 of the state's 278 state parks would be closed in 2012 as part of a revised budget proposal, legislators, business owners and even filmmakers have stepped forward with ideas to help resuscitate the country's largest state park system.
First, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, sponsored a bill that quickly passed the House (and was pending in the Senate) allowing the state to seek operating partnerships with nonprofit organizations. Under the proposal, a nonprofit could submit a plan to the state about how it would oversee a park or portions of a park. If that plan were approved by the state, the nonprofit would be required to present annual reports at public meetings. "It's not a silver bullet, but it could help," Huffman told the Marin Independent Journal. As an example, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation already runs El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. Under Huffman's legislation, similar arrangements could be expanded to parks statewide, officials say.
Filmmaker Alden Olmsted, son of the late California naturalist John Olmsted, is taking a different approach by asking every Californian to donate $1 to the cause. He says the money raised would be enough to keep open all 70 parks slated to be shuttered, as well as buy enough time to develop a long-term solution for funding them. Olmsted's goal is to present Brown with a check for $11 million in September.
The Vallejo Times Herald reported that Olmsted spent part of June touring the earmarked state parks in his copper-colored 1966 Chrysler Newport convertible, placing plastic money-collecting jugs in prominent locations and holding "a whirlwind of meetings" with state officials and members of the media. Each donation jug features a photograph of his father, a former Golden Gate State Park employee who passed away in March and is credited with creating the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, located along the Mendocino coast. The younger Olmstead told the Times Herald that his mailbox also has been stuffed with donations - including a $13 check from a woman who a sent a photograph of herself and 12 family members.
Additionally, a new deal between the state and Oroville, Calif.-based CleanFlame - a manufacturer of campfire logs that produce significantly less creosote, carbon monoxide and particulate matter than natural wood when they burn - strives to keep parks open while eliminating some of the heat state officials were receiving from air quality districts about smoky campfire rings. The partnership allows CleanFlame to sell its logs at state park stores; the company also has pledged $300,000 to the state park system over the next three years.
Whether these and other efforts ultimately keep the gates open at one, some or all of California's endangered state parks remains to be seen. After all, other attempts have already failed. Proposition 21, which would have increased annual vehicle license fees in the state by $18 and generated an estimated $500 million for a dedicated state park fund, was defeated by voters in November.
The mess got worse in May, when the California Legislature cut an additional $22 million from the Department of Parks and Recreation to help close a budget deficit of $9.6 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Funding for state parks has dropped 43 percent since fiscal year 2006, from $175 million to $99 million for the fiscal year that began July 1. At least 66 parks have been partially closed, while 90 others are experiencing severe reductions in services.
In the wake of Brown's proposed closures to the 84-year-old system, state parks director Ruth Coleman told he Contra Costa Times that obstacles involved with shutting down parks - from navigating state coastal laws that hamper efforts to close beaches to deciding whether trespassers should be cited - could complicate matters significantly. In fact, a plan to simply leave the gates to closed parks open was under consideration. "We know there are liability issues," Coleman told Times reporter Paul Rogers. "Our overarching goal is to preserve these resources. That's our fundamental mission. If we can do that in a way that preserves public access, we will."