|MacKerricher State Park campground|
(7/1 update: Virtually all state parks on the budget "hit list" have been saved, at least for now. Unfortnuately, there's also a park fund controversy. See Christine Sculati's Blog.)
Some NorCal Yak pals stayed at MacKerricher State Park last weekend while on a Mendocino river kayaking tour. They waved down a ranger in a truck. Would you take our picture? She smiled, stopped, got out of the vehicle – and three people handed her their cameras. No problem, she snapped away. Didn’t even check for outstanding warrants, despite the appearance of our motley crew.
Later, one camper told me how impressed he was with MacKerricher. It’s a big, beautiful, popular park. Many visitors roll in early in the season. Rangers are friendly, my paddling pal reported, but they also make it clear that noisy, rude people just aren’t tolerated. One of the best camping spots ever, he declared.
|Motley crew of park fans (thanks, Carol...and ranger)|
The good news is that MacKerricher is not on the park closure list – for now. But some other state parks and beaches on the North Coast are facing shutdowns and a hit to the local economy's tourist trade. In Mendocino County, a temporary reprieve was recently announced for Jug Handle, but Russian Gulch – well-known for kayak rock gardening and sea cave paddling – remains on the state “hit list”, though the parks department is seeking potential concessionaires for it.
Parks rely on the state’s general fund – tax money – to stay open. Park fees don’t cover it by a long shot. When the state’s economy tanked, so did the general fund. And by law, most tax dollars must go to education, health and welfare, and prisons.
With its budget torpedoed, the parks department began scrambling, and it has taken heavy flak in the process. Fact is that people want it all, and for free – from politicians down to the guy who complained about the daily parking fee while loading his $5,000 kayak. Meanwhile, some folk are sniping about proposals for private company concessions. NorCal Yak asked the parks department for an update, and here’s what we got:
|Mono Lake had well-organized support|
Of the 70 parks in jeopardy, 16 have been “adopted” by non-profits, the feds and the like, including kayaking areas such as NorCal Yak favorites Mono Lake and Tomales Bay, as well as the Colusa-Sacramento State Recreation Area.
Another 17 parks are in partnership talks with local governments, non-profits, whoever. Potential kayaker spots include Anderson Marsh State Park and Benicia State Recreation Area.
Finally, 21 state parks are seeking private concessionaires. It’s a last-ditch effort by the parks department to save them, not a sell-out. Got a better plan, bring it on, says the department. Those parks include Russian Gulch and Brannan Island, a popular paddling spot in the Delta.
So more than 50 parks remain in suspense, and up to 16 have no prospects for survival at this point.
A few other interesting facts:
· About a dozen companies – Coca-Cola, Bosch, Travelocity, Subaru, State Bros. Markets, and others – donated about $6.8 million in the past three years. Projects included burned forest restoration, recycling, beach dune recovery, clean-ups, and so on. Since it's one-time money, it can’t be used to keep parks open.
· Some 190 private concessionaires now operate in state parks with more than $12 million in annual revenue. They include restaurants, snack bars, boat rentals, marina operations, camp stores, and more. Funds help operate and maintain parks.
· In 2010, more than 34,000 park volunteers provided more than 1.1 million hours of service with a labor value of more than $23 million.
|Historic China Camp still in play|
Plus, we’re creating a crazy quilt system of park operation. It will get worse as maintenance lags. A few legislative “feel-good” park bills are in the works, but even if they pass, parks will still fall millions of dollars short.
In 2010, California voters strongly rejected a vehicle license fee that would have cost less than 5 cents per car per day in return for free access to every state park. If more voters had spent a day kayaking, camping, or just walking around places like MacKerricher, perhaps that vote would have gone differently.
But as it stands, we may have a very different park system by summer’s end. And it doesn’t look so good.
See Christine Sculati’s Blog for the most comprehensive coverage of the park crisis. The California State Parks Foundation continues to lobby for park funding. Find cooperating organizations at the state parks department, and also check around to support a local park group such as Friends of China Camp. And here's the original park "hit list."
A parks superintendent discusses the challenges with a Sacramento Bee columnist.
© Glenn Brank, 2012