Activist photographs closing state parks

August 17, 2011 8:33:11 PM PDT
Dozens of state park facilities will be shut down next year around California, the victim of $23 million in budget cuts. A San Francisco photographer has decided to show those closing parks to remind us of what we are losing.

At Olompali State Park in Marin County, photographer Eliya Selhub is on a mission to take photos of each of the 70 state parks and beaches proposed for closures because of budget cuts.

"When I heard they were closing, I said, I have to see all these places, I can't not have seen these places," Selhub said.

Selhub hopes to raise awareness of the closure by posting the photos on his website, ClosingCaliforniaParks.com.

The governor and state legislature says the closures are necessary to cover the two-year, $22 million cut in the state park budget. The plan was passed in March and the parks are slated to close next July.

"To see a place like this...I don't know. I can't imagine it being somewhere where everyone can come and be here," Selhub said.

But park officials say they are left with no choice. Olompali and other state parks will close unless money or resources are found to keep them open.

"How else are you going to save $22 million?" questioned Denita Rodriguez with California State Parks. "We've already...cut quite a bit for the last several years."

In fact, the state park's budget has been reduced by 44 percent since 2006. Park staffing is currently at 1979 levels, but the park system has grown by more than 500,000 acres and 10 million more visitors every year than it had back then.

Of the 278 parks statewide, 150 have already been affected by budget cuts. That means fewer rangers, lifeguards and janitors. Many restrooms, camp grounds, picnic areas and parking lots have already been closed.

"Some parks are easy to just close a gate or close a museum, while other parks aregoing to be a little more complicated," said Rodriguez.

The California State Parks Foundation worries about what will happen to the closed parks when nobody is watching. Elizabeth Goldstein says illegal marijuana is already growing in some state parks.

"There's going to be vandalism in these places, advertent and inadvertent," Goldstein said. "There's going to be a deterioration of the natural environment, potential loss of cultural places, historic buildings and so on."

State park officials are hoping people will be able to fill the financial gap by volunteering or donating to keep the gates and doors open.

"We're hoping to look for partners in whatever capacity, that is, to help keep our parks open," Rodriguez said.

Those partners include Selhub, who hopes his photos will inspire others.

"Whether you're in it for the exercise, or in it for the history lesson, this is California and it's a shame to see it go," Selhub said.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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