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We Are Not Out of the Woods Yet

Posted: Jun 30, 2012

The media exploded late this week with news that our California state parks are saved… for now. With the looming July 1 deadline to close 70 state parks fast approaching, nonprofits, local governments, the Legislature and the community stepped in to stave off closure. While the buzzer-beating save is good news, let us be clear: we are not out of the woods yet, not even close.

Wednesday night, Gov. Brown signed the FY2012-13 budget proposed by the Legislature, which preserved some funding for California’s cash-strapped state parks. The money will help the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) relieve some of the current strain on the state park system and creates an opportunity to finalize agreements to keep more of the 70 parks open.

These agreements have been made possible by the hard work and generosity of groups throughout the state who have stepped up to give their local state parks short-term reprieves from closure, such as the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, and the Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park. These temporary reprieves range from a few months to several years.

Legislative leaders took a positive step for getting this funding into the budget, as did Gov. Brown for signing it, and the numerous partners who stepped in to operate state parks rather than let the gates shut. It is fantastic that groups at this eleventh hour are finding solutions. It may almost seem like the state dodged a bullet. But that is not the case. All Californians need to understand: what has been accomplished to date is simply a short-term strategy to buy more time. California’s entire state park system remains threatened. When these deals run out — most after only one year — we will be right back in the same position, facing more park closures.

All of the heroes who have made the extraordinary effort to keep parks open should not be rewarded by being told they need to keep doing it forever. The truth of the matter is that Gov. Brown’s decision last year to close 25 percent of our state parks was never going to save California money. The numbers don’t add up. State parks generate more than $6 billion in economic benefit annually. Parks attract more than 65 million visitors every year who spend about $42 per day in and around parks. This supports an estimated 56,000 jobs across the state; jobs that translate into a total labor income of $2.3 billion each year, which is amplified in local economies.

We understand that Gov. Brown has cut many line items in the budget, but the long-term cuts to our state parks will have devastating consequences. Closing state parks is bad for the economy and to the more than 100-year commitment to preserving these priceless public assets. Saving $22 million by cutting state parks is not a smart move given the social, cultural, recreational and economic harm it will do.

Now that the July 1 deadline has been pushed back, Californians can be proud of what we have accomplished as a community. However, these short-term partner agreements and legislative funding shifts will only keep our parks open temporarily. The parks system can’t rely on these resources forever. It is time to guarantee the future of this system, because it is in danger of being taken apart one park at a time.

The real, long-term solution is a serious, sustainable public funding commitment to our state parks. Continued vigilance is needed against additional cuts, closures, and threats in the near future as more Band Aids are applied to a critical situation. To stop the slow but deadly cascade of park closures, Californians must realize what is happening and stand up to defend what’s theirs.

Elizabeth Goldstein is president of the California State Parks Foundation. To learn more about the Defend What’s Yours campaign visit calparks.org/defend.

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