By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Caryl Hart, a longtime local parks advocate and chairwoman of the state Park and Recreation Commission, was confirmed Tuesday as Sonoma County’s new Regional Parks director by the Board of Supervisors.
Hart, 52, co-founded Landpaths, the nonprofit open space space group, and served for 13 years on an advisory committee for the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
She takes over from Mary Burns, who is retiring after more than five years at the helm of county parks and a long career directing the parks departments in San Francisco and San Mateo County.
“I’m thrilled. It’s an incredible honor,” Hart said about her new position, which begins Nov. 8. Her contract is for three years, with a starting salary of $134,184.
Hart is married to Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. The couple lives in the hills outside Sebastopol with their 17-year-old daughter, Reya.
Hart began her professional career as an attorney, working for the federal government. After a stint in private practice, she served as a public defender in both Marin County and San Francisco.
From 1995 to 2009, she was vice president for 360 Degrees Productions, a Sebastopol-based recording and production company.
Her involvement in parks began after she settled in the Sebastopol area in 1991.
On the open space advisory committee, where she served as chair for three years, she guided an effort to expand parkland purchases and start an outings program. She also was involved in the campaign that led to the district’s reauthorization by voters in 1996.
About that time, Hart and two others founded Landpaths, which aims to help manage public access and involvement in parks, especially where county dollars fall short.
In 2000, Gov. Gray Davis appointed Hart to the state parks commission, which she has chaired since 2007.
She recently received a doctorate from UC Berkeley in environmental policy and management. Her dissertation focused on the effects of climate change on state parks.
Hart said her new position will give her greater ability to transform her many ideas and hopes for county parks into action.
She said her role as park advocate would also be an asset.
“In some ways, I think that the director of regional parks is the ultimate park advocate,” she said.
She will take over a department that, like most in county government, has been hit by sharp budget cuts. This year, Regional Parks, which includes about 90 employees and oversees 44 county parks, seven Veterans Memorial buildings and a community center, had about $1 million cut from its general fund budget. The total budget this year is $17.1 million.
Hart said the fiscal challenges will require new partnerships with other public agencies and increased volunteer involvement in park care.
“This is a real opportunity to apply the idea that these parks are Sonoma County’s backyard, these are your lands,” Hart said.
Among other goals, Hart mentioned expanded outreach to the Latino community, seniors and youth. She also hopes to use her expertise with climate change to help the county address looming environmental challenges ahead for parks.
“Parks are going to play a big role in helping the county address climate change and educating the public about climate change,” she said.
Supervisors praised Hart’s hiring as a smart choice for county government.
“Caryl brings a wealth of experience in administration, building needed partnerships for success and understanding the intricacies of preserving and protecting our natural environment,” said board chairwoman Valerie Brown. “The entire Board is overjoyed to have a person of this caliber joining our team.”