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California state parks said to face biggest threat in 150-year history

May 28, 2009 | 11:44 am

Deer wander through a meadow at Topanga State Park.

How would you feel if nearly all of California's state parks were to close and become off-limits? 

Sadly, eliminating funding for the expansive parks system is one of many extreme measures Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to enact to help reduce the state's downward-spiraling budget deficit. Just as sadly, it's one of many examples of citizens being penalized for the state's inability to balance a checkbook.

You might recall the governor as being no fan of the outdoors. He threatened to close 48 parks and 16 state beaches, at meager savings, early in 2008. He supported an ill-fated plan to build a toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

Now, facing a projected $24.3-billion budget shortfall, his back is against the wall and he has again aimed his bazookas at those vast parcels of wilderness that afford such a treasured refuge for millions of citizens seeking to escape the chaos of civilization, if only briefly, to rejuvenate body and mind.

Beginning July 1, the governor plans to cut core funding for 279 parks in half (by $70 million), and during the next fiscal year he intends to cut all funding. If the cuts are approved by the Legislature, more than 200 parks could be forced to close.

Without staffing and human traffic, trails will vanish and homeless encampments and illegal pot farms might take root. (Do not expect enforcement of no-trespassing ordinances.) Fire danger might substantially increase and that could, in turn, lead to lawsuits against the state.

The California State Parks Foundation, which is lobbying to keep funding open, states that the general fund budget utilized by state parks accounts "for less than one-tenth of one percent of the entire state budget" and if that's true then the meager savings do not justify the action.

Rock resembles a whale at Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel. 

Elizabeth Goldstein, Cal Parks president, called the measures "awful and draconian." She points out that more than 80 million people visited state parks last year and that for every dollar that funds the parks, $2.35 is returned to the state's general fund via economic activities in nearby communities.

"That means eliminating all funding for state parks could actually result in the state losing over $350 million in revenue," Goldstein said in a website posting. Goldstein said this is the greatest threat the state parks system has faced in its 150-year history, and urges those wanting to learn more and join the fight to keep funding in place to visit the website.

As someone who appreciates the importance of maintaining state parks in such a cluttered society, I hope common sense prevails and that they're allowed to remain open.

-- Pete Thomas

Top photo: Deer wander through a meadow at Topanga State Park. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez
. Bottom photo: Rock resembles a whale at Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel. Credit: Pete Thomas/Los Angeles Times