Crusaders fighting to save state parks propose a plan for funding
Across California, state parks have been faced with an onslaught of financial uncertainty. Much to the chagrin of residents and tourists, parks have been forced to cut hours and services and even close their gates due to a $14 million cut from the state last year, leaving local agencies to recoup the costs. Maintenance has been neglected and many state parks have bridges down, bathrooms closed and popular trails unapproachable because of downed trees and abundant overgrowth.
Although the situation has seemed dire at times, the winds of change may be around the bend: the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010 hopes to breathe new life and financial stability into California’s state park system.
A fee of $18, tacked on to each California vehicle’s annual registration, would supply the state parks with the funding they need to leap out of their current downward spiral. In exchange, each vehicle with California license plates will have day use and parking fees waived. It usually costs $10 to $15 to be admitted into local state parks, meaning that two trips each year would more than cover these costs and create a sustainable source of revenue for parks to draw from in the future.
“This is part of an ongoing effort to save the parks,” says Bonny Hawley, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks (FSCSP). “State parks have been under-funded for over a decade. We really feel like we have to get the state parks off this rollercoaster of funding.” FSCSP have been stewards to the local state park system since 1976, but all current efforts are focused on sending this initiative to the ballot in November.
If this is passed, approximately $500 million a year will be made available to state parks. The money will be directed to a trust fund that will be subject to an audit every year. From this, 85 percent of the money will be redirected into the state park system; 7 percent will be allocated for the California Department of Fish and Game; 4 percent will be for the Ocean Protection Council to look after marine wildlife conservation and the protection of coastal waters; 2 percent will go to state conservancies; and the remaining 2 percent will be reserved for the Wildlife Conservation Board.
With some urging from Third District Supervisor Neal Coonerty, the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act on March 16. “State parks desperately need and deserve the reliable funding that this initiative will provide,” says Coonerty. “The people of California support and love their state parks and we need to act to keep them alive and healthy.”
As technology progresses, more people find themselves staying indoors, watching television, playing video games, surfing the web or chatting online. State parks offer a respite from the techno buzz; a space designated to enjoy the beauty that nature provides. “I am close to Wilder Park and I love walking through it, but Nisene Marks is also close to my heart—I really can’t decide [on a favorite],” says Volunteer Signature Gatherer Judy Geer. “There are so many pearls in this town. If you close the state parks, you’re really deserting them.”
Proponents of the initiative say that abandoning these parks not only detracts from California’s ecological history, without them there would no longer be a safe place to connect with natural surroundings. Crime and destruction of state parks has grown because of the reduction in park rangers, and similar cuts to lifeguards have created potential safety concerns at local beaches. “Park rangers no longer have the resources to keep track of everyone coming into the park,” says Hawley. “People are growing marijuana and defacing property.” FSCSP hopes for the initiative to pass so that California will be able to protect some of its most valued resources.
Right now volunteers are needed to help gather signatures to get the initiative rolling. “I stand on Pacific Avenue in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz to gather signatures,” remarks Geer. “It’s pretty easy. Most everyone agrees that it’s important to save our parks.” A total of 477,000 valid signatures need to be collected by mid-April to put the initiative on the ballot for the statewide election in November, but “we’re trying to get over 700,000 signatures,” says Hawley, just in case. Until then, FSCSP will continue their mission to protect the parks; the “pearls” set aside for everyone to enjoy.
To volunteer as a signature gatherer or to donate to the local state parks, contact Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks at 429-1840 or visit their website at thatsmypark.org.