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Proposed state parks closure list is not for the faint of heart

Mono Lake, which is more than 1 million years old and features unusual tufa formations made of calcium carbonate. This morning, I glimpsed the list of California state parks earmarked for closure if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger successfully cuts funding, and I became sickened and angry.

There are 220 parks, reserves and beaches on the list. That would leave a mere 59 parks for our continued enjoyment.

Those that will close if the Legislature approves the elimination of funding are wonderful and unique. Their becoming off-limits to help the governor trim the budget deficit seems neither right (the savings don't justify such drastic action) nor fair to millions of citizens who are entitled access to treasured wilderness parcels set aside years ago for their benefit.

(The closures supposedly would be temporary, but given the enormous cost to reopen these parks after their trails are overgrown etc. might make reopening all or even some of them difficult.)

A sampling of destinations on the hit list, with brief commentary:

-- Eastern Sierra's Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve and Bodie State Historical Park: The former boasts one of the planet's most surreal landscapes and features bizarre tufa spires and a lake more than 1 million years old. The latter is a ghost town from the gold-mining era. Visitors journey to the Old West and emerge with a clearer understanding of our past.

-- Malibu Creek State Park: For years one of my favorites. Close to L.A. yet a world removed with its oak-filled valleys, rolling hills and rugged peaks. A haven for hikers, campers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and bird enthusiasts. 

-- Leo Carrillo State Park: Camp in the sycamore-shaded canyon, hike the Nicholas Flat Trail to the crest and back, then explore the rocky beach and try to envision this place being off-limits. I camped here as a kid on a school field trip, back when schools could afford or were allowed such things.  

A hummingbird probes a flower along the Nicholas Flat Trail at Leo Carrillo State Park.

-- Ano Nuevo State Reserve: Does the governor -- indirectly, by way of funding cuts -- really wish to prevent people from watching elephant seals propagate? Seriously, the raw display of nature here is the kind of stuff you see on the Nature channel.

The list goes on and on, and chances are your favorite park is mentioned. If you'd like to join the fight to stop the elimination of funding, scheduled to be complete during the next fiscal year, visit the California State Parks Foundation website and follow instructions. They're easy and, hopefully, with enough public input, this nightmare scenario will become just that: a bad dream.

-- Pete Thomas

Top photo: Mono Lake, which is more than 1 million years old and features unusual tufa formations made of calcium carbonate. Credit:  Dan Blackburn

Bottom photo: A hummingbird probes a flower along the Nicholas Flat Trail at Leo Carrillo State Park. Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (80)

The following is the State’s official mission statement for Parks and Recreation, “The mission of the California Department of Parks and Recreation is to provide for the health, inspiration, and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state's extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural, cultural and historical resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation for current and future generations to enjoy. Specific activities include stewardship of natural resources, historic, cultural and archeological sites, artifacts and structures, provision of interpretive services for park visitors, construction and maintenance of campsites, trails, visitor centers, museums, and infrastructure such as roads and water systems, and creation of recreational opportunities such as hiking, bicycling, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, jogging, camping, picnicking, and off-highway vehicle recreation.”

The proposed budget cuts for State Parks, are nothing less that a full scale assault against the people of California and the State Park System, by the Governor and Legislature. This failure to meet its mandated constitutional responsibility to the people is a failure of governance not current economic conditions. In the 1960’s State Parks were free (no user fees, as is typical of today) relatively well maintained, and well staffed. Our taxes have not gone down over the last fifty years but the quality of our State Parks has. Our historic and cultural park resources are hardest hit by this legislative neglect. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed California’s Historic Structures among the Nation’s most endangered, for years now.

Manifest Destiny and the Gold Rush defined the spirit of California and its people. Out of the Gold Rush came people like Leland Stanford, John Bidwell, Howard Hughes, the railroad, oil, ship building, movie, aircraft and space industries. More recently the spirit of California is defined by, HP (Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard), Xerox, Apple, Google, and Facebook. It is no accident that these people and industries are located in California. It is our heritage, and our culture that has created this environment, and made this State what it has become today. That spirit is now threatened by the Legislature’s desire to remove the learning opportunities provided by our State Historic Parks. An Environment California Research & Policy Center study prepared for the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 2002, “determined that $2.6 billion was generated by visitor spending in local communities during that year. These dollars were estimated to support over 100,000 jobs statewide.” Why would we want to give that up by closing and under funding State Parks?

The State’s historic and cultural resources have no value to our political leadership as demonstrated by there under funding of care and maintenance, for the last twenty years. Parks now has a backlog of 1.3 billion dollars in deferred maintenance. This is almost three times the total Department budget and fourteen times the current maintenance budget for the coming year. Unless action is taken now we will continue losing our States historic and cultural resources because of Legislative neglect. In fact many of these resources are already beyond repair and now require replacement or have just been lost forever. Replacement is a hundred times more costly than maintenance, so the abrogation of the States responsibility appears to be deliberate. The repair, restoration and maintenance of historic and cultural resources, is a job opportunity for hundreds if not thousands of unemployed Californians. What better way of getting the economy going that putting people back to work on something that benefits them directly?

If you look at the current budget you will find that the Legislature, with its 120 employees, is spending $2,133,883.00 per Legislator (not including retirement contributions of $8,017,000.00 or $66,808.00 per Legislator per year). Parks by contrast is spending $234,860.00 per employee. A large Department like Caltrans is spending $609,523.00 per employee. When viewed on a per employee basis the Parks Department is delivering more service per dollar to the people of California than any other Department in the State or the State Legislature. Caltrans and Parks provide in place benefits to small business and the public. The Legislature and the Governor are responsible for leadership, so what are we getting for that 2.1 million dollars per legislator?

The Governor and Legislature are passing up a significant opportunity to create jobs, business opportunities, and tourism for the people of California. This, in addition to abandoning its commitment to the people of California for open space, recreation, education, and the preservation of cultural and historical resources. The cost for all of this for less than a tenth of one percent (0.1%) of the State budget! Does it make sense to eat the goose that lays golden eggs for California? Frank Zapa once said that you do not understand legislation until you understand where the money is going. So what is the Legislature doing with the other 99.9% of our State Budget?

Cutting the budget for State Parks and or closing 70 state parks will not reduce the deficit it will only degrade the current economic environment. I believe in leadership by example, the permanent damage being inflicted upon State Parks by the Legislature is along way from leadership.

State Park Funding Idea: On a typical week during the summer, less than half the camp sites at Plumas-Eureka State Park (and other state parks in the Sierra) are occupied by Californians. Over the 4th of July – 55% of the sites were occupied by campers from other states, primarily Nevada. California tax payers pay for the development and operations of the parks. California already charges different rates for resident vs. non-residents: UC tuition: $9,984 vs. $32,701 (230% premium), fishing license: $41.50 vs. $111.85 (170% premium), hunting license: $41.50 vs. $144.00 (250% premium). Why don’t we charge a non-resident rate for camping fees?

A State Park is open land managed by the government why does it need to be so closely managed? Many of the people who work at these parks are unemployable so it would be better to lay many of these people off and allow us to use the parks without so much supervision and expense, there's a lot of open space that's unmanaged without issue so why do the parks need to be managed so closely?

Worse, many of the state parks have nearly as many people working at them during the week as they have visitors. Why not protect the most precious areas and cut back services at the other locations...

This should be a simple solution. Lease the State Parks to private vendors. These private companies will hire people to clear trails, run stores and campgrounds, and general maintenance. The state would oversee that the land is properly preserved and accessible. Meanwhile, the economy is spurred by employment. Tourists will also continue to come to the state and spend money, unlike if all parks are closed to them. If the state considers capitalistic solutions once in a while we may actually have working solutions.

Dre and Hyster hit it right on the head. The SP are revenue generators for the state. I always hear many people speaking foreign languages when I go to these places, like French or even Russian. People come from all over the planet to experience these fantastic wilderness sites. And they are actually making money for the state. The parks pay for themselves, not to mention being absolutely fantastic resources in and of themselves.

As I stated previously, I could see trimming a few of the most underutilized parks, like perhaps Henry CO, for instance. But closing down Big Basin? The place is absolutely packed every weekend. Terrible!

Ok, I can see shutting down places like the huge and underutilized Henry Coe SP.

But Big Basin, Castle Rock, & Portola Redwoods? What are our legislators smoking. This is going to be a tiny cost savings, and in the meantime, criminals and vagrants are going to move in and trash the places. California state government is completely dysfunctional right now.

Okay, go ahead, close 220 state parks. How many acres is that, by the way, that are going to be left unattended, for trespassers, poachers, and pot growers to ravage? Because it will happen. Here's one idea, maybe not the best, but something: charge a temporary admission fee to the state parks. Sure, that will cost money to enforce and it will cost all of us, democrats and republicans alike, but in the long run, it will save millions. Governor, REALLY SIT DOWN AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO to the hundreds of thousands of Californians who seek peace from those woods and beaches, to the plant and animal life that will suffer from non-management. Just think about it. Is there really no other way?

Here's an idea. How about they just raise the prices of the fees to the park. I know they seem high right now but I would rather pay the extra money than to see them close. I have a feeling others would do the same. If Disneyland can pack its park to the gills 365 days out of the year and charge $60.00 a person shows that people are still willing to pay higher fees in order to vacation. If you look at what people pay every year for entertainment, either being movies, music, theme parks, camping, fishing, hunting, whatever, shows people are willing to pay for what they do on their time off. And what about the people that state parks employ every year. What a great way to help the economy by taking away even more jobs.

I will be quite saddened to see many of these parks close. There is a proposal to add $15 to vehicle registration fees in return for free access to all of the state parks. This sounds like a great solution to me. Many of these parks are treasures in and of themselves.

I was recently at both Mono Lake and Bodie. Bodie had a decent crowd of people despite the fact that it was raining (and hailed at one point). There was also a constant stream of people paying to hike down to the tuffas at Mono Lake.

If these parks close I pity the people that live in Bridgeport and Lee Vining. While in Bridgeport it seemed that half of the businesses were either for sale or closed, including the main grocery store. These towns will be devastated by the park closures since much of their income results from tourism.

The lack of maintenance on some parks might also be devastating to the parks. One park said that if they don't constantly maintain the PH balance of their water system that the pipes will disintegrate due to the normally acidic water. Bodie's "arrested decay" would stop and numerous structures will likely suffer.

Some parks like Big Basin are extremely popular given their distance from the Bay Area. They're very busy and usually filled with campers such that people have to reserve a spot months in advance.

How about organizing volunteers to keep these parks open. If we can organize protests to keep the parks open then finding volunteers to run the parks in the absence of the government shouldn't be a problem. Lets take some responsibility ourselves and stop asking the government to do stuff for us.

Its important to recognize the affect these closures will have on low-income communities too. These parks are often the only form of refuge for poorer families. These cuts, as with the cuts in education, are disproportionately affecting low-income neighborhoods.

This proposal is extremely short sighted. As one observer has mentioned, these parks cost less than they generate, ie they make a profit.

Whilst I am doing my best to understand the difficult situation Arnie is in, I can't help but think he is looking after big business rather than us little people. He is cutting important services whilst continuing to subsidize freeway construction and other environmentally wasteful and socially degrading 'infrastructure'.

I think it would be a shame to close most of these parks. Although it is difficult to calculate, economists pen a 2.35 to 1 benefit to California's economy for each dollar spent on the parks. Taxpayers who use these parks deserve the opportunity to keep them open.

Do NOT take anymore of our natural undeveloped land. Closing parks is just another excuse to pollute our envireonment.

The proposed savings amount to a whopping 1/2 of 1% of the state budget. How about cutting funding(read paychecks) to state legislators who are either unwilling or unable to do their job?

If state parks closes what about all the people who will lose their jobs?

WELL guess what you (the people who thought is was such a good idea) will be paying for my food stamps, medical, a place to sleep and so on.

Then lets not forget about the crime rate rising, because people will be in such desperate times.

Lets get serious and stop attacking.

Well well well.....Doesn't everyone have an opinion. I say we "the people" need to revamp our government. Do our homework when it comes to passing propositions. (not just listening to what they put out in literature and commercials).
We can blame this person and that person but the reality is this what is done is done ... now what can we do to fix it. I don't believe in shutting down state parks. For one I am an employee of 15 years with state parks. I love my job. This is a second family to me. I see that a lot of people on this site who have commented don't really care about the total impact of shutting us down. Not only will our treasured lands that we so proudly protect and make available to all the people of the world suffer but what about all the people who will loose their jobs? Did anyone consider the effect on the state when MORE homes are lost, people can't afford to feed their families, no medical insurance and so on. I am scared to death to think that I may be standing in line with all the illegals and people who don't want to try and make a decent living applying for food stamps, medical and some place to sleep. I have put my best foot forward in preserving the best of CA for all to enjoy and this is what I now must face? So people realize that closing state parks does not make a dent in our deficit and will only make it worse in so many ways. I mean is reality looking for another state to call home? Thank god I only brought one person in this world.

Many of the parks on the suggested closure list are constantly filled. How can this possibly be a financially sound decision given the fees collected by the parks and the dollars spent in local communities? I know whenever I go camping I buy my groceries at stores near the campground and often try local restaurants.
And what of the crime that will take place in these closed down parks? Are we to pay more for patrolling officers now?

Save a park save a tree

If you'd like to lend your support to all those in California who have their State Parks being threatened - over 80 per cent and almost all beach areas will close in less than 90 days. A huge loss to today and future generations.

Go to the web site:

Save California State Parks from closure! - The Petition Site


Thanks...and hope you get a chance to visit the magnificent California State Parks.

Please sign this petition to save our state parks from closure.
May we all be a able to continue to enjoy the beauty of our state parks.

time for some illegal hiking.......lol

People, people... this is exactly what the governor wants you to believe, that we are *forced* to do this. We are not.

The parks don't cost us money, they bring in more money than we spend on them. For every dollar spent on the parks, they give back an average of $2.35 to California's general fund.

Cutting funding to the parks is a strategy designed to evoke outrage and make us more amenable to taxes. People are rightly outraged at this measure, because it saves us no money, cuts tourism, lays waste to communities, cuts jobs, and prepares the few sanctuaries we have left in this state for neglect or destruction.

www.calparks.org Speak your mind.

There are a whole lot of short-sighted people commenting on this proposal. Cutting 80% of the State Park system - a system that brings IN revenue for communities surrounding the 220 parks listed for closure, creates jobs, and thus generates tax revenues, means the folks here talking about it being acceptable don't have a clue as to what they're talking about.
This proposal to close 220 California State Parks is nothing short of insane. If you want to kill tourism, maim recreation, and create a situation where California loses its natural, historical, and cultural value, then fine, slice that 1/4 of 1 percent of the state's general fund budget. You will NEVER be able to reopen these parks because the cost to do so will be prohibitive. We will permanently LOSE the staff for these parks who are experienced and knowledgeable. We will decimate communities near these parks that rely on park visitation for jobs.
Closing our State Parks is a despicable and stupid idea. Anyone endorsing it should move somewhere else - preferably Austria.

Prop 13 is NOT what got us into this mess, government expansion is. Prop 13 has averted a much larger catastrophe: imagine the amount of property tax going in the state coffers, had the state been able to adjust everyone's tax during the boom! Now imagine how much more you'd have to cut once it went down.

The problem is the government figured out ways to create new programs and spend the cash as its income went up during the boom, instead of saving it for worse times. Much like the american consumer, it has found itself broke now and it's not because it couldn't grab more money *right now*.

We simply have a boom budget that needs to be shrunk down to pre-2004 levels. We should perhaps look at the programs created since then to absorb the extra income.

Everyone had the chance to support the propositions during the special election and they were voted down. Californians were warned that cuts would be coming if the props didn't pass, so this should be no surprise or shock to anyone. The cuts need to come from somewhere and this is just a small piece of cuts to come. We need to deal with it.



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