A Fight for Our Parks


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By Debra Atlas
May 27, 2012

SACRAMENTO — One year ago, California Governor Jerry Brown announced the pending closure of 70 of California’s state parks. This would, according to the governor, save $22 million and help relieve the state’s $92 million deficit.

For nature lovers, hikers, campers, and a host of tourist towns, this was an unexpected and pummeling blow. With California’s burdensome fiscal crisis, high unemployment rate, and sagging economy, the impact of the closing of approximately one-third of the state parks may make economic sense in the short-term. However, it also means giving up a source of future revenue.

To raise awareness of the seriousness of the situation, the California State Parks Foundation hosted a special, invite-only screening of the film The First 70 at Sacramento’s Crest Theatre earlier this month. This beautifully refurbished movie theater was originally built in 1912, and now hosts a number of film and music festivals.

The audience included employees from the California Native Plant Society, California State Parks and other state agencies. One of the guests, Marcy Pullman from Cal-EPA, commented that the film was perhaps the only way she would ever see some of the parks. Other attending dignitaries included Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips; Traci Verardo-Torres, Vice President of Government Affairs at the California State Parks Foundation; and Barbara Williams, Chair of the Sierra Club Council of Northern California.

“It’s so easy to forget how much we have in California,” says Phillips, who recognized a lot of the places that were filmed.

“This film is an anthem to the beauty of California state parks,” she adds.

State Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael made an appearance at the reception. Huffman won the 2012 Legacy Award from the California State Parks Foundation for his work advocating for California’s state parks. Huffman was a strong supporter of The State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010, a bill that proposed raising vehicle license fees by $18 / year in order to generate about $500 million a year for a dedicated fund for the state’s 278 parks.

Two of the film’s three filmmakers also attended: Jarrett Moody and Lauren Valentino of the production company Heath Hen Films.

Moody, Valentino, and their fellow producer Cory Brown began their film odyssey with a Kickstarter campaign. While the initial goal was to raise $35,000, the campaign garnered over $57,000! The three twenty-somethings then set out in a converted airport shuttle bus that ran on veggie oil to see all 70 of the state parks slated for closure. They covered 3,000 miles in four months, and made a point to camp in as many of the parks as possible.

The 70 parks slated for closure constitute half of all the historic parks in California, and include thousands of acres of parkland and wildlife reserve. In an ironic twist, the state parks’ budget decreased as the total number of acres and visitors expanded. Many of the state parks are operating on skeleton staff, some with as few as one on duty.

“Park funding has been in decline for three decades,” says Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California.

No one knows the direction the closures will go. But closing the parks is not as simple as shutting a gate. The film made it clear that though parks might be closed, this does not mean that people will not come anyway. The potential consequences of having unstaffed parks include poaching and other illegal activities.

Another key unknown that Governor Brown may not have accounted for is the cost to re-open the parks at a later date. By cutting $22 million from parks, you don’t necessarily save $22 million, according to Moody.

“It’s actually a net loss,” he asserts.

Phillips also states that, ultimately, the cut will not save the state money. The whole park system generates around $6 billion revenue annually for the state.

However, as one park employee points out, the parks are not supposed to be a cash cow anyway. They are for residents and visitors to explore, enjoy, and learn from.

Another vital piece of the puzzle is the impact of the closures on local economies: losses to hotels, stores, restaurants, canoe and bicycle rentals, and so on. The First 70 states that for every $1 spent in a state park, $1.60 is spent in the surrounding community. In areas like Mendocino County, which is home to no fewer than five marked parks, the closures equal financial devastation. Thus many communities are trying to find other ways to keep their parks open. Many nonprofits are stepping up as well.

According to Traci Verardo-Torres, Vice President of Government Affairs at the California State Parks Foundation, fourteen of the 70 parks will be closing in the short-term, but not permanently. The National Park Service will keep three open until June of 2013. Jack London State Park will be kept open for the next five years, thanks to the help of a nonprofit. Lagunitas Brewery is chipping in to keep Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County open. None of these reprieves are permanent, but they do represent short-term alternatives to state funding.

There also is hope for a long-term recovery, in the form of three state bills. Assemblymember Huffman has introduced AB 1589, the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, which would help achieve budget savings without closing any parks. Senator Noreen Evans introduced two bills, SB 974 and SB 1078, which are geared towards saving dozens of California parks through a combination of redirecting money from elsewhere in the state budget, drawing funds from vehicle registration fees, and increasing the cost of entry into the parks.

In a recent interview, Evans noted that “the state has never closed a state park, not even in the Great Depression.”

Verardo-Torres encourages Californians who want to help to:

There are currently twenty screenings of The First 70 slated around the state. Any organization, community group, association, or individuals can set up a screening. To request a screening agreement phone 916-442-2119 or email advocacy@calparks.org.

The First 70 will also be aired on PBS stations this summer. People can request of their local PBS stations to air the film. You can find out more about which PBS stations will carry this, as well as a regularly updated list of screenings, on The First 70’s Web site.

Read more articles by Debra Atlas


© 2012 SCGH, LLC.

One Response

  1. Kandy December 11, 2013

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