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Nonprofit asks to run Will Rogers State Historic Park

August 27, 2009 |  2:48 pm


A private, nonprofit organization today asked the California Department of Parks and Recreation to allow it to manage and operate Will Rogers State Historic Park.

In a letter to parks Director Ruth Coleman, the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation said that, given the state's shaky finances, the organization could do a better job of running the Pacific Palisades park, where cowboy-philosopher Rogers lived until his untimely death in a 1935 plane crash.

"We believe that a partnership between the foundation and California State Parks would clearly make sense and would be in the public interest, as well as in the best interests of this historic ranch," said Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, a great-granddaughter of Rogers and the foundation’s chairwoman.

The action reflects the frustration of Rogers family members and park supporters, who say the parks agency has done a poor job of running the park and faces graver challenges because of the state’s eroding finances.

Most recently, state budget cuts forced park personnel to reduce the number of days the ranch house is open to tours and to halt work on the visitors center, which has been undergoing a restoration. The foundation plans to operate a retail shop in the visitors center to muster more funds to care for the property.

The four-year-old foundation's proposal aligns with the suggestions of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Coleman over the years that private groups will have to step forward to help operate the state's cash-strapped public parks. Rogers-Etcheverry said the foundation hopes to emulate a private group's operation of the Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Without offering financial details, the foundation said it has garnered support from the Will Rogers Memorial in Oklahoma, Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, Will Rogers Polo Club, Pacific Palisades Historical Society and Will Rogers Cooperative Assn., as well as the backing of many community leaders and opinion makers "who are willing to commit to long-term financial support."

Representatives for the parks agency could not immediately be reached for comment.

--Martha Groves

Photo: The former home of Will Rogers in Will Rogers State Historic Park, as seen in January 2008.

Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times