Politics

State parks seek alternative funding

Monday, July 27, 2009

Some of your favorite state parks are about to lose millions of dollars in funding now that a final budget has been approved. The park system is scrambling to launch a donation drive to keep them open.

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The parks budget was originally slated for a $70 million cut that would have closed 220 state parks. In the end, it wasn't as bad, but the system now is asking for a handout.

The California State Parks Department is resorting to donations to help keep some locations open; maybe a local county can bail its park out, or a wealthy family can write a check.

The final budget approved last week includes an $8 million cut, which means as many as 50 parks statewide are in danger of closing.

"If we can find good partners, temporarily, one year, maybe two years, until we can get back on our feet, that would really help the system stay alive for our 79 million visitors," said the department's Roy Stearns.

While there is no final closure list yet, there was one compiled last year when lawmakers were struggling to balance the state budget. It was based on mostly attendance and revenues brought in, and varied widely from camping sites to beaches.

Places like the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento were targeted, having seen only 30,000 visitors in 2006.

In the Bay Area, some of the poorly-attended state parks include Tomales Bay which saw 118,918 people that year, Candlestick Point with 97,078 and Portola Redwoods with 36,277.

"I'm not real happy we got to close any of them, but at least looking at the lowest attended, it seems to make sense," said state park visitor Chuck Bristol from Bakersfield.

But the State Parks Foundation thinks there has to be a better way than closing parks or embarrassing ourselves by begging for money.

"We need to be realistic. We can't bake sale our way out of this problem... that there is an appropriate role for local governments, philanthropists and individual Californians to help support parks," said Traci Verardo Torres with the foundation. "But there's a reason why these are state resources because these require a commitment from the state."

The foundation is looking at possibly reviving an idea that failed recently in the Legislature -- asking voters to add $15 to vehicle registrations. That way all Californians can enjoy the parks without an entrance fee.

LINK: California State Parks

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