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State park fees to increase; widespread closures still expected

August 12, 2009 | 10:45 am

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California State Parks announced it will increase camping fees by $10 to $21 a night, and day-use fees by $2 to $5 to help offset devastating budget cuts. The increases will go into effect Monday.

This will not prevent widespread park closures expected to be announced soon after Labor Day. Unless The Department of Parks and Recreation can rally significant support from partners in the public and private sector, it may be forced to temporarily close 100 or more of the state's 279 parks.

The fee increases are expected to raise, at most, $200,000 by the end of the year. The cut to state parks this budget year is $14.2 million, so park lovers throughout California can expect the gates to close at one or more of their favorite parks, and to pay more to enter parks that remain open.

This is not intended as criticism of California State Parks, which is in a hard place and in dire need of any extra funding it can acquire, simply to function.

If anyone deserves criticism, besides the state and its governor for allowing the budget deficit to skyrocket beyond the stratosphere, it's the millions of parkgoers who for years have cheated the system by parking their vehicles outside park limits and walking in for free.

One estimate places this number at greater than 60%. Perhaps the parks could benefit by requiring visitors to carry proof of payment, as many private fishing lakes do. Of course, that plan could be  perceived as insulting and backfire. But so might the fee hikes backfire, by causing even more people to cheat the system.

Meanwhile, the fate of some parks, for now, seems to rest outside state government. Individual parks that end up on the closure list might be spared only with the help of their surrounding communities and nonprofit corporations.

It's an ugly and unfortunate mess and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few weeks, and over time. My prediction is that most parks that are closed will not reopen for a long, long time. I hope I'm wrong.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Emily Nitikman and Peter Davidson enjoy the view of the Pacific from Topanga Canyon State Park. Credit: Brian Vender Brug / Los Angeles Times

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