Potential Twin Lakes closure leaves residents uneasy
It’s a foggy Monday morning as Laura Kasa surveys the scene at Twin Lakes State Beach. There is no trace left of the crowds that dotted the shoreline over the weekend—except, that is, for the piles of trash waiting to be hauled away.
The Save Our Shores executive director peers into a garbage can, muttering about the plastic containers that poke out from the pile and the small number of trash and recycling receptacles at the entrance.
“When I drove by Seabright Beach yesterday, it was packed,” Kasa says. “What’s it going to be like in July?”
This is the question on the minds of many park lovers as California prepares to shutter dozens of state parks and beaches for the first time in its history on July 1. The closure list includes Santa Cruz’s Twin Lakes State Beach, which encompasses Seabright Beach, Blacks Beach and Schwann Lagoon.
In May 2011, California State Parks presented a list of 70 of its 279 parks that it would close due to budget cuts. Since then, this number has shrunk as the state comes to partnership or donor agreements with various nonprofit organizations. Locally, Castle Rock State Park received a private donation of $250,000 from the Sempervirens Fund to stay open, and the historic Mission Santa Cruz was saved through a three-year state partnership with Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks.
Although these properties have been saved, the possibility of many other sites (including Twin Lakes) still closing begs the question of what will happen to these places if the state can no longer oversee them.
“I can’t imagine suddenly abandoning this heavily used state park on July 1, especially with the July 4 weekend then coming up when there is a huge crowd and a lot of concern about public safety,” says Santa Cruz County Supervisor Neal Coonerty.
These proposed closures were decades in the making due to gradual decreases in the state parks’ general fund, according to California State Parks Deputy Director for Communications Roy Stearns. Their budget was cut by $22 million this fiscal year alone.
“The budget crisis hitting us today has been slowly working its way to a boil, [and] we finally got to the point where we could no longer operate all parks in the system at an adequate level,” Stearns says.
The factors considered for which parks to shut down ranged from fiscal strength and visitation numbers to their ability to physically close. Kasa questions how this methodology was applied in the case of Twin Lakes, which attracts half a million visitors annually, according to the most recent data available.
“We’re unclear as to why Twin Lakes Beach was selected because it’s such a popular beach spot here,” she says. “One of their criteria for being able to close a location was that it is closeable … but it’s really not possible to close the park.”
Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks Executive Director Bonny Hawley believes Twin Lakes was chosen because, despite its high visitor totals, it garners no money for the state.
“There is no state parking for Twin Lakes—[there is a] huge visitorship and a huge budget with it, but no revenue whatsoever,” Hawley says.
A June 2011 report from the County Administrative Office (CAO) expresses concern for the potential impact on tourism if Twin Lakes were to close. It also condemns California State Parks for a “lack of a cohesive closure plan.” Stearns confirmed that plans for signage about Twin Lakes’ closure, bathroom accessibility and other details will come “somewhere between now and July.” He added that State Parks “may alter our direction, depending on whether or not we can achieve savings elsewhere.” Closing Twin Lakes would save the state $414,917.
Melodye Serino, senior analyst for the Santa Cruz CAO, says that regardless of the outcome of these details, the beach itself will not be closed off.
“It may mean closing the restrooms, suspending garbage and patrol services, no lifeguards, etc.,” Serino writes in an email to GT. “It is hoped that a local group or municipality will step forward to at least provide trash collection and law enforcement/patrol services.”
Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Director Dannettee Shoemaker says it is not in the city’s budget to take over operations of sites the state plans to close. “The city’s financial situation has not improved greatly,” Shoemaker writes to GT in an email, “so I do not see Parks and Recreation being in the position [to] help maintain any of the State Parks slated for closure.”
Coonerty warns against depending too heavily on individuals or groups to supplement state park services. “We have no expectation that the public can do the level of enforcement of laws and good practice required to make this an open and accessible beach,” Coonerty says. “This is a state property and they have to take responsibility for it.”
Stearns recognizes there are multiple issues that can come about from closing a park, but says the state’s hands are tied by a lack of funds.
“There is a concern about vandalism, theft, damage, [and] park visitor safety, and we’ll do what we can to work with local agencies to help mitigate those problems,” Stearns says. “While those are concerns, we have a budget situation that does not allow us to do our mission completely to alleviate those concerns.”
Currently, Save Our Shores is working to partner with California State Parks to lessen the problem of waste management. But the nonprofit is facing budgetary constraints of its own.
“What’s ironic is that the state did cut back all their funding to us … and yet they’re looking to us to be that partner to help them,” Kasa says.
Twin Lakes is one of the largest trash emitters of any local beach, with 13,140 pounds of waste collected there over the past five years. Kasa fears this trash could go unattended with the closure of Twin Lakes, especially given the closure’s proximity to Independence Day.
“I was at Seabright Beach this past year [on July 5] and we collected more trash at that beach than any of the six sites we were [also] at,” she says. “It’s already a problem without making any cuts.”
Coonerty believes public safety is paramount when considering the termination of state park services at Twin Lakes, especially when it comes to the water.
“Without lifeguards at these beaches during the summer months it is likely people will drown,” Coonerty wrote in a January Town Hall column for Good Times. “According to state lifeguard statistics, lifeguards performed 64 rescues in 2010 alone and undoubtedly some of those rescues would have been fatalities without the lifeguards.”
Whether or not Twin Lakes can be saved at this juncture is just as much an unknown factor as what would happen if it were to close. Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks would not be able to step in for Twin Lakes, says Hawley. She also emphasizes that this deal with Mission Santa Cruz is only a temporary answer.
“We do not see it as a permanent solution,” she says. “There needs to be a public, sustaining funding source.”
Kasa believes it will come down to a grassroots effort from the community. She is already seeing this manifest itself in the form of donations to Save Our Shores’ California Challenge, which seeks to restore the $300,000 in state funding cuts over the next three years. The nonprofit is nearly a quarter of the way to reaching their 2012 fundraising goal of $100,000. How close they come to meeting their target will determine the level of services they will be able to provide.
“I believe the community can come together now both in volunteer support as well as financial support to help us be that partner that State Parks needs,” Kasa says.
Although Stearns does not expect the public to take over duties formerly provided by State Parks, he asks that visitors remain cognizant.
“We would ask that good citizens everywhere help us keep an eye on these parks and use caution if they visit,” he says.
To donate to Save Our Shores’ California Challenge, visit saveourshores.org/donate. To get more information or to donate to Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, visit to thatsmypark.org.