Lawmakers seek solution to state park crisis

(David Louie/ABC7)

May 8, 2012 8:04:32 PM PDT
Two Democratic Bay Area state senators, Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa and Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, are proposing a longer-term way to solve the closing of 70 state parks on July 1 due to the budget crisis.

The leaders of small, community-based foundations that have been raising funds to keep individual parks open welcome the plan, as they fear donor fatigue and the uncertainty of short-term bailouts.

Evans and Simitian released a list of possible solutions, such as collecting entrance fees at more locations, expanding concession stands and offering a donation check-off when renewing vehicle registration. Other ideas include a special state license plate with the premium fee earmarked for state parks.

"We've got money set aside for road maintenance and law enforcement in the Motor Vehicle account; that money could be used for road maintenance and law enforcement inside state parks," Simitian said.

In addition there's the possibility of tapping into the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund to repair waste water and septic tank issues at parks.

Bonny Hawley, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, recently signed an agreement with the state to keep the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park open for three years by agreeing to raise $45,000 annually to cover the cost of a ranger and maintenance. The park features the oldest building in Santa Cruz County, dating to the early 1820s. On top of that, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks already raises $50,000 annually for educational programs. The park is a favorite destination for third and fourth grade students from throughout the state.

"We already fund all the education and interpretation that happen here at the mission, and on top of that, now we're taking on funding a park ranger and also maintenance staff to keep the park from closing in July," Hawley said.

However, Hawley says a longer-range solution is needed. That opinion is echoed by Stuart Langdoc, secretary of the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation, which is still raising funds to keep two state parks open -- Portola Redwoods and Castle Rock.

Eighteen parks have already reached an operating agreement to stay open with help from local, federal or nonprofit foundation help, eight others are in negotiations and 21 parks are seeking bids from private operators to take over some or all functions.

Simitian thinks his plan could cut the closures from 70 to 20.

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