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Californians rallying to prevent closures of state parks--will it help?

June 4, 2009 | 11:15 am

A deer perks its ears in the presence of a hiker in Topanga State Park, which is on the list of parks slated for closure if funding cuts are made.

These are sad and crazy times for millions who enjoy parks. There is some good news: The National Park Service has announced it is offering three free weekends at more than 100 national parks, the first of which is Father's Day weekend, June 20-21.

But in California there's mostly depressing news, as 220 state parks, reserves and beaches still face closure because of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to eliminate funding to help alleviate a $24.3-billion budget deficit.

Ironically, this is occurring at a time the governor is pressing forward--for the time being, anyway--with the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, which establishes an extensive network of marine parks along the California coast. The state has private funding for the process of establishing those parks, but it remains unclear where funding will come from thereafter, for enforcement and studies to determine whether the no-fishing parks are helping fisheries recover, as intended.

But that's a separate issue. As for the land parks, Californians are rallying to prevent them from being closed. More than 84,000 letters of opposition to the funding cuts have been sent to legislators and/or the governor, according to Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation. The Legislature probably will deliberate on the issue and make committee-level recommendations next week.

The governor plans to cut core funding for 279 parks in half (by $70 million) by July 1. And during the next fiscal year he intends to cut all funding. The cuts must be approved by the Legislature.

"We're still encouraging people to send letters but right now we're in a waiting mode," Goldstein said.

A pelican glides in for a landing Malibu Lagoon State Park, which also is on the list of parks to be closed.

That's not exactly true. The California State Parks Foundation is compiling economic data to try to show how damaging closures would be to communities that rely on parks for tourism. (The L.A. Times ran an op-ed piece on the issue Tuesday, touching on economic and other ramifications if parks are closed.)

Cal Parks also is compiling statistics on trash cleanup within state parks to show what dumps they'd likely become if gates were closed to law-abiding citizens.

"We want people to visualize how much litter will gather if nobody's picking it up over the next  two years," she said. "The answer is a lot."

--Pete Thomas

Top photo: A deer perks its ears in the presence of a hiker in Topanga State Park, which is on the list of parks slated for closure if funding cuts are made. Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: A pelican glides in for a landing Malibu Lagoon State Park, which also is on the list of parks to be closed. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

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