Before making a rash decision to close even one state park, we encourage the governor to explore the fragrant redwoods that line the trail to Portola Redwood State Park or take in the majestic 16,000 year old redwood in Armstrong Woods State Park. How about taking your family hiking or fishing at Clear Lake State Park or simply gazing at the stars at Fremont Peak State Park? Spend a few moments with the young man from south Los Angeles who is panning for gold with his classmates for the first time and learning about the challenges the 49ers faced when they settled in California. Or, share in the joy of fourth graders as they learn California history during a field trip to Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. Our state parks are host to a magnitude of activities for all Californians, activities that could be lost.
The Governor recently released his Fiscal Year 2008/2009 budget proposal. Included in his proposal are major cuts to California’s state parks system, which yields very little savings to the state, yet negatively impacts nearly every Californian. While we all understand that California is facing a significant budget deficit, closing even one state park is unacceptable, but closing 48 state parks and reducing lifeguard protection by 50 percent to some of our state’s most populated and popular beaches, as proposed by the Governor, is an absolute travesty.
So, how much will these cuts save California in the grand scheme of things?
It is estimated that the closure of these parks will result in a little more than $13 million in savings, or 1/13th of 1% of the state budget. However, when you factor in the loss in tourism dollars to local communities, it becomes negligible. It has been estimated that for every dollar spent by the state on parks, $2.35 in tourism revenue has been generated. Furthermore, with a proposed reduction in staffing to state beaches, California will be opening itself to significant liability since skilled lifeguards will not be present to assist beachgoers in the event of an emergency.
During these difficult economic times, California’s state parks are the one place where people from all economic backgrounds are able to enjoy our treasured beaches, parks, campgrounds, rivers, and trails at a minimal, if any, cost. And use them they do. Last year alone, the California Department of Parks and Recreation tallied more than 77 million visits! And so far this year, almost 9,000 camping reservations have been made for opening day in May – this is a 20 percent increase from last year. This clearly illustrates that the demand for our state parks is increasing, not decreasing and that the closure of even one of our state parks is, at best, unacceptable and at worst, detrimental. Simply put, the governor is robbing Californians of the affordability, beauty and adventure offered by our state parks system.
Moreover, California’s state parks offer healthy activities for communities and a chance for people to learn about California’s rich history, environment and natural treasures. Each year, millions of California teachers and students use our state parks as an educational resource through visits to historic parks and museums, 16 of which have been targeted for closure. It is inconceivable that the Governor would propose closing down these historic places and depriving our children of this unique learning opportunity.
Even more distressing is the possibility that once these parks close down, they will most likely remain closed indefinitely. Without proper care, the parks will deteriorate to a point where they are costly to reopen, decreasing the chance they will be able to receive visitors again.
The Governor has stated that his proposal was meant to “rattle the cage,” and rattle the cage it has. He awoke a sleeping lion. Californians recognize the severity of this proposal and are galvanized to take action. The Save Our State Parks Campaign (SOS) was recently launched in an effort to keep California’s magnificent state parks open. Since its launch in late February, the SOS Campaign has grown rapidly and has nearly 500 individuals involved as well as private companies, local governments, teacher organizations, environmental organizations, Chambers of Commerce and elected officials among others.
We encourage all Californians to get involved to protect our state parks by visiting www.savestateparks.org. It is imperative that we let the governor and our state legislators know that the closure of even one of our state parks is unacceptable.