One Last Push To Save California State Parks
Similar pins were given out at a music festival at the Los Angeles State Historic
Park over Labor Day weekend. (Creative Commons Licensed)
As early as next week, a third of California's state parks could close because of slashed state funding.
"Every park is threatened," said Sean Woods, superintendent of the Los Angeles sector of the states parks. "We're running on fumes."
In a small effort to help ease the budget cuts, the day-use fees went up by $2-$5 and camping fees by $10-$21 a night at some popular parks. Future fee increases are possible, as are fee adjustments in the coming months.
However, raising the price to venture out into the great outdoors will not nearly be enough to make the parks self-sustaining.
"The fee increase we implemented recently will do very little," admits Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications for California State Parks.
The fees increase will raise about $200,000 between now and the end of the year and $5 million over the next three years. But with an annual operating budget of around $143 million, fees only account for a third of the state parks' revenue. Raising fees enough to be profitable would price people out of the parks, said Stearns.
"At this point, it's certain parks are going to close," he said. "How many is the question."
The list of which parks will close -- there are 279 state parks -- is expected next week.
At the Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown, an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 people meandered through the sprawling urban greenspace this past Saturday during the sixth annual FYF Fest, a homegrown festival of indie-rock, metal and punk music that this year also aimed to raise awareness for the parks' dire situation.
As hipsters in cut-off denim shorts and ironic T-shirts shuffled past her booth, Sara Feldman encouraged them to write a personal note on a green paper heart, part of the "I â™¥ State Parks" campaign. Those hearts are going to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"There has to be public support," said Feldman, vice president of the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy agency for the parks. "No matter how much money we raise, it won't substitute public support.
Woods, of the Los Angeles sector, admits he didn't immediately see the downtown park as a proper venue for FYF. He now thinks there are lessons to be learned from the growing music festival, such as using social networking sites as a promotion and advocacy tool. (The California State Parks Foundation has been using its Facebook page as an online forum to interact with its 47, 700 "fans.")
"More than money," said Woods, "(the FYF Fest) is reaching out to a demographic that might not be a parks user."
And while there's been an outpouring of public support, noted Stearns, the parks are up against an economy in crisis.
"People are not inclined to have price increases," he said. "So that means cuts and closures.
For true sustainability, he explained, the parks will need to find a funding source that's dependable year after year.
Such a source is the proposed State Park Access Pass, which the California State Parks Foundation supports. The plan is Californians would pay a $15 surcharge on their annual vehicle license fees, but be given free day-use of the parks. The parks foundation estimates the plan would raise about $363 million annually.
Other possible solutions are partnerships with cities, counties, corporations and nonprofits.
In the meantime, though, cuts and closures will be painful, said Stearns, who calls the opportunity to get-away into the woods or relax on the beach for the weekend "important for your sanity."
"But until we have better economic times or a more stable funding source," he said, "we're forced into closures and shutting people out of parks."