WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: Once upon a time, parks were forever

Greg Hayes

Greg Hayes worked at Jack London, Sugarloaf Ridge and Annadel state parks as a ranger for 25 years. He volunteers at the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, which is accepting tax-deductible donations to help stave off closure of the three parks. Go to jacklondonpark.com.

Welcome to an all-cuts budget. If you weren’t shocked by the promised permanent closure of 70 state parks, then maybe you’ve given up on our elected leaders.

Over the past 30 years they have systematically neglected and starved state parks into worse than caretaker status while increasing deferred maintenance to $1.2 billion. Didn’t we entrust these public servants with our irreplaceable heritage parks with the expectation that they would preserve them in perpetuity?

Turns out forever isn’t very long. In 1971, tax-paying citizens and public agencies working together inspirationally raised $5 million to buy the 5,000 acres we call Annadel State Park. We did so with the understanding that we would not be barred access due to legislative negligence.

Also closing are Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, home to wilderness camping and the awesome Ferguson Observatory, and Jack London State Historic Park, with its monumental Wolf House ruins. Who knew how insignificant the internationally famous author’s unique legacy was to the state of California? What exactly do officials plan to do with the park’s 10,000 precious artifacts? Pack them off to Sacramento, never to be viewed again? Let Sotheby’s auction them off?

Where do we go from here? Is there nothing left for these “non-essential” parks but subdivisions or privatization?

Protected parklands are not designed to make money. Even concessionaires find it tough to turn a profit in state parks. LandPaths and the Sonoma County Open Space District are already over-laden with acreage such as Willow Creek and Calabazas Creek — areas that they ironically hope park agencies will some day take over with tax-supported funding.

Educational nonprofits such as the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association don’t have the money to operate parks. (Full disclosure: This group supports the three above-mentioned parks that are about to be shut down, and I am currently its president.)

Without passing Assemblyman Jared Huffman’s proposed new law, raising money for park operations would violate our nonprofit charter. It would also turn us into entrepreneurs staging fundraisers targeting mega-donors. If you think ballot box budgeting is a bad idea, just how many Russian billionaires like the one who saved Fort Ross do you think we can we count on popping out of a hat?

Because of the limitations of homegrown nonprofits, strange hybrids (think HMOs) are likely to spring up when those 70 park-quality properties suddenly hit the market. Groups affiliated with KOA-like companies would have to crowd in a few more campsites and possibly introduce our Sugarloaf Ridge campers to miniature golf to make ends meet.

A stinging irony of the announced closures is that the bulk of them are in areas that approved Proposition 21, the November ballot initiative to fund state parks through an increase in vehicle registration fees. In Southern California, where the measure failed, few parks are closing. But our neighbors to the south should not feel overly secure. Saving the state’s general fund $23 million will not make a dent in the billion-dollar maintenance backlog that threatens to sink the entire park system. Inevitably, unless a better solution is found, the next list of closures will include their favorites too, the ones they thought they had already paid for and had been promised access to forever.

So what’s a better solution than magic billionaires and privatization? Ask your legislator, ask your governor. We elected them because they said they had the answers. Demand that they find $23 million somewhere else in the $85 billion budget to keep all the state parks open. And, failing that, demand that they at least not auction off a quarter of them to the highest bidder.

11 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Once upon a time, parks were forever”

  1. Shadow says:

    In this economic hardship, more people have been using the parks with their families because it is cheap, enjoyable and enriching. Parks clear the mind and fill the soul.

    Without Prop. 13, many of us would have out of control payments to the assessor.
    Prop. 13 didn’t create the problem, over spending created the monster.Don’t park for free, pay to use the parks, buy an annual pass.
    We all need to do our fair share to keep the parks open. Volunteering allows the community to have involvement in the parks, keep true to the real problem. The elected representatives need to be held accountable to finding a funding source to keep the parks open. Cut their per diems, their vehicles and let’s see the representatives hiking in the parks and showing some face to openly campaign and keep the parks open.

  2. Skippy says:

    Sorry Greg, but nothing is forever when the owners are robbed by the staff.
    Govt. has had some good ideas, like parks, but the very nature of Govt. guarantees corruption.
    Without the free market to keep the players honest, it can only turn out that way eventually.
    I recall you from your time as a State Ranger. You did a fine job but you were unaware that the elected slime in Sacto. was spending the money to keep our parks forever open on welfare, illegal invaders and entitlements designed to buy votes.
    That really sucks, but it is really quite true.
    You were lied to as were the rest of us.
    It is long past time for the taxpayers of California to take control of our state.

  3. Sarah says:

    Governor Brown will close the parks. He has already harmed the university system.

    We the taxpayers must bow down to the unions – and to their employees who rob us blind with their $300,000 a year for life pensions.

    Governor Brown is not there for the public – he is there for his union friends only and to heck with exercise and our park system.

    Its not part of the teacher union -so blast the parks away, is his attitude.

  4. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Forget all your ‘traditional’ ideas about our Government, our entitlements, our unalienable rights. Public/Private Partnerships? I know, sounds like an oxymoron. While we were ‘kinda busy, Global Elitists have successfully infiltrated the UN(THE eye of the storm), Washington DC and the lie we call The Federal Reserve has always been thiers, masquerading as a Government Agency(in Globalists we trust). They have also taken over your town thru ICLEI and an alphabet of other acronyms. Things look simular, White House still has those columns in front. Still have Democrats and Republicans doing the blame game. That is just distraction, a charade. We have, quite literally-been ‘sold out’. If we all knew what these people had planned for us, the public would freak. Let’s just say history tends to repeat itself. So regarding our open space and parks, the subject of this story. The policy, the OFFICIAL POLICY regarding the ultimate plan for our open space is called ‘The Wildlands Project’. Might ‘wanna search that on line. So when our streets look like some dark episode of History Channel, remember those ‘whacos’ on WSC spouting that Agenda 21 crap like a broken record. We don’t want to be right, We want to be free.

  5. Kari Danskin says:

    Mitch – the parks belong to us, not Corporate America. While I understand the draw, who knows what will happen 100 years from now after generations of newly elected officials continue to revise the contracts so that these private companies can turn our beloved parks into something that doesn’t even resemble what they once were.
    Parks shouldn’t be making a profit. They should be available to every single citizen, including the low-income families who rely on the parks to provide them with a beautiful place to play in their communities. I don’t want to see my parks overrun with KOA campgrounds and concession stands at every turn. I go to the park to get away from Corporations trying to stick their hand in my pocket with incessant advertising.
    What’s next – will Jack London State Park become Verizon Park?

  6. Mitch Fowler says:

    Privatize the operation of State parks and save them. A non-government business management entity could run them and make a profit. The idea has been completely successful everywhere this decision has been made.

  7. Dogs Rule says:

    When the parks close, they’ll be inhabited by homeless people and criminals growing pot and it’ll cost 40 million bucks a year to deal with all that. Nobody can “close” thousands of acres.

  8. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Less parks = smaller GOVERNMENT.
    Shut’em down!

  9. Shelby says:

    Saving $23 M by closing parks ?

    No pension reform ?
    No change is services to illegal
    immigrants? No cut backs for over compensated state employees?

    I just don’t get it.

    I use the parks a few times a week and think they are a tremendous value.
    there are so many other things that are just plain WRONG! Why cant we face them?
    How bad do things have to get ?

  10. Bear says:

    I look at it this way. Give the fiscal hawks all the rope they want.

    Beyond this issue, I’m concerned that some deficit-cutting policies are going to drive the US economy off a cliff.

    Every job lost – public or private – means less money for economic recovery.

  11. Grey Whitmore says:

    ummm HELLO Greg. The “they” you are talking about are the ELECTED leaders of the government. So if anyone has ignored the parks system it is the electorate that keeps electing spenders and tax fighters into the government.

    The same electorate that keeps wanting services they don’t want to pay for. The same electorate that is beholding to business vis-a-vis Prop. 13.

    So the government is not the problem, the electorate is.