Schwarzenegger to be honored for protecting parks

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who threatened to close scores of California parks as a budget-cutting move, is being honored by a parks advocacy group for his work in protecting parks — a move that has raised eyebrows in California.

Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger, who vowed to close 100 of California's 279 state parks, and lawmakers approved a $14.2 million cut to the state park system. Parks were not closed, but the money was made up through cuts in services and hours, among other items.

 Combined with the impact of the forced furloughs of state employees, the economic hit actually is closer to $30 million, according to park advocates. The Schwarzenegger administration is planning on an additional $8 million hit beginning next July.

"When Schwarzenegger pulled the plug, instead of parks being completely closed, there were a lot of partial closures," said Elizabeth Goldstein of the State Parks Foundation. "Half the restrooms in the state closed, and camps and trails. There were very severe cutbacks in services. We think this is going to affect the public a lot. Obviously, they won't find completely closed gates 365 days a year, but the parks are far less maintained, and health and safety issues are getting taken care of less quickly."

The National Park Trust said it planned to honor Schwarzenegger on Oct. 29 with its 2009 Bruce F. Vento Public Service Award "for his leadership and innovation in the protection of public lands in California and for his life-long commitment to children's health and to connecting them with the outdoors."

The NPT made the announcement last month and had hoped to make it earlier, but said the state's "unprecedented budget crisis forced the postponement of the event this past June and threatened to close up to a third of California State Parks." The Trust noted that Schwarzenegger, state budget writers and state park officials had "found a way to avoid closing parks this year. The plan includes steps such as cutting back on maintenance, delaying the purchase of equipment and reducing days of operation in some parks, hours of operation in others. The Governor will provide more details at the Vento reception in October."

The chairman of the National Park Trust Board, F. William Brownell, said in a statement released by the Trust that "The budget crisis in California emphasizes the importance of organizations like NPT who work to develop and to leverage resources to protect our parks."

Brownell, an attorney who specializes in defending companies against environmental regulators, said the NPT board "discussed the matter of park closures with the Governor in June and are hopeful that our concerns have contributed to this resolution. NPT is committed to working with California to support the continued viability of the state's parks; we will support California's efforts to develop long-term solutions to keep them open."

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