Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hey, park paddler, can ya spare a dime?

With 70 state parks losing public funding next year, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a law that will allow non-profit organizations to become custodians of some of California’s most important environmental treasures. Some of these endangered parks and preserves are favorites of kayakers and other water enthusiasts, and most are in Northern California.

China Camp Heritage Day will need more, bigger contributions
Assembly Bill 42 wasn’t a surprise to Capitol insiders or park advocates It’s a classic political maneuver by elected officials to shift responsibility, then tip-toe away before the public realizes just what they've lost. But in truth, there’s plenty of blame to go around – a state economy in the crapper, an electorate long on tea and short on sympathy, and a parks system overused and underfunded for at least the last decade.

There are three reasons why these 70 parks made the hit list, in my view. (Spent a former life in the belly of the political beast and a stinky place it is.) First, the pols calculated which parks had enough private support to keep them going. That explains why Mono Lake, with more than 250,000 visitors a year, made the closure list. The Mono Lake Committee is a long-established non-profit that’s heavily invested in the lake’s survival, and the group is a heavy-hitter in political circles. Mono Lake will make it, though visitor fees will likely increase.

Mono Lake preserve has the means to stay afloat
 The second category involves parks in prime locations with strong potential support. This would include China Camp State Park, just north of San Rafael, which has thousands of users who bike, hike, camp, and paddle in the area. (China Camp will be featured in an upcoming NorCal Yak post.) There’s already an anchor support group, Friends of China Camp, who are united by the significant ethnic history of the park. But the group will have to step up its game to keep China Camp operating. (Tip to them: Begin pressuring your area legislators and other elected officials to help you round up corporate support right now – small contributions alone probably won’t hack it. And you need to upgrade your online presence pronto.)

The last group of parks are the orphans that no one wants to talk about. They are located in relatively remote areas, or they lack a well-heeled private constituency to support them. This could include Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino and Brannan Island State Recreation Area in Sacramento County – both with strong appeal to paddlers.

Near Russian Gulch: Out of sight, out of luck?
One notable non-profit blogger, Christine Sculati, who’s followed the park situation closely, has basically projected that up to 50 parks may not find non-profit “foster parents."
The problem is not necessarily that you won’t be able to get access to such areas, either from the beach or the water. It’s that these places may deteriorate to a point where you won’t choose to go there.

And the cutbacks have already begun -- check the park links above. State funding for these parks runs out June 30, 2012. The “foster park” system is essentially an experiment that’s never been tried on this scale. Non-profit organizations must figure out details that don't exist yet, and then those non-profits must compete with a bad economy – and each other – for public support. s kayaking sea kayaking rivers kayaking lakes

California has more state parks, and more spectacular parks, than any place in the country. And we just hung up a “for rent” sign on about one-quarter of them.

© Glenn Brank 2011