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Shuttering State Parks

news2Come September, Castle Rock, Twin Lakes, Portola Redwoods and Mission Park will be closed
The bad news Californians were expecting was finally released by California State Parks on Friday May 13, when they announced the list of 70 state parks scheduled for closure next fiscal year. The closures result from the $11 million cut to the Park Department’s operating budget, which was adopted by the legislature and signed by the governor in March. Regional state parks scheduled for closure in September include Castle Rock State Park, a favorite of rock climbers and hikers up on Skyline Drive, Twin Lakes State Beach, which means the state will no longer be providing lifeguards, Portola Redwoods, and Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park.

The March budget agreement slashed state spending to reduce the then estimated $26 billion budget deficit to its current $13 billion level. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed bridging a good part of the remaining gap by extending some existing taxes, with voter approval, that otherwise expire in June. Republicans have staunchly opposed extending any taxes or raising any new revenue through increased taxes, and have blocked efforts that would put the proposed tax extension on the June ballot.

“These cuts are unfortunate, but the state’s current budget crises demands that tough decisions be made,” said John Laird, secretary of the Resources Agency, in a May 13 press release announcing the park closures. “Hopefully, Republicans in the legislature will agree to allow California voters to decide whether we extend currently existing taxes or make deeper cuts to our parks.” An additional $11 million budget cut in the 2011/12 fiscal year is necessary to achieve the total of $22 million reduction in funding required by the current state budget over the next two years.

“Despite reductions in service and hours of operations over the last several years of declining budgets, this is the first time in our history we will have to completely close and lock up a state park,” says Sheila Branon, acting mountain sector superintendent of the Santa Cruz District of State Parks.  “It’s hard to imagine no more fourth grade field trips to the Santa Cruz Mission, which is a regular part of the California history curriculum in Santa Cruz. It’s a scary time for all of us.”

Putting the padlocked state parks on “caretaker” status means the properties will be less secure and more susceptible to vandalism and decay, according to Branon, thereby reducing the comfort level of many neighbors and adjoining property owners. Whether or not the bathrooms at Twin Lakes beach will remain open is still not certain.

“Even though we’ve been preparing for this news, it’s a very sad day for California,” said Bonny Hawley, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, in a statement responding to the park closures announced on May 13. “We should be asking, ‘Is this the kind of state we want to be living in?’ Until we have a better answer to that question, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks is prepared to step up in new ways to save these parks and beaches for future generations as they were saved for us.”

Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks is a nonprofit that has partnered with the Santa Cruz District of State Parks for the last 35 years providing seasonal park aides, volunteer docents, educational programs and interpretive services in exchange for a portion of the entrance fee and camping receipts. The second largest “cooperative association” in the state, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks has helped local state parks keep visitor services staffed and expand educational programs over the last several years of dwindling state park budgets.

Assemblymember Bill Monning (D-27th District) has remained clear about his support for furthering this kind of cooperation. “The Department of Parks and Recreation is working to develop partnerships with cities, counties and nonprofits in order to keep as many of these 70 parks open as possible,” Monning said in a statement about the park closures. “I am committed to working with all interested parties to attain this goal.”

The 70 parks on the closure list represent about 25 percent of the total of 278 parks statewide, and those chosen for closure were evaluated by historical significance, number of visitors, and revenue generated, among other factors. While not a single state beach in Southern California will be closed, 40 percent of the state historic parks, including the old governor’s mansion in Sacramento, made the list.

Santa Cruz County came in first of California’s 58 counties in the percentage of voters (68.4 percent) voting in favor of Proposition 21 back in November, 2010—the proposition that would’ve added an extra $18 to vehicle license fees to assist funding State Parks. The final statewide vote rejected the proposition with 57.3 percent of voters opposed.

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