On July 1, 67 of California’s 278 state parks, beaches and historic sites will be closed. A budgetary move by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, the closures are a response to a cut of $22 million to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Announced last May, the proposal was at first largely ignored because it was such an illogical notion that it appeared to be more of a ploy to dramatize the state of the budget crisis than an actual productive course of action. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to cut state parks in 2008, but abandoned the idea due to public outcry. Unfortunately, Gov. Brown does not seem to mind becoming the first governor to close parks.
The supposed savings of $22 million is less than 1 percent of California’s $9.2 billion budget deficit. In fact, the state legislative analyst reports that closing some parks will cost the state more than it would cost to keep them open due to expenses involved in locking up buildings and storing museum artifacts.
Even after this is taken into consideration, the state is likely to incur further costs after closures are finalized. Without any rangers, parks will be vulnerable to vandalism such as graffiti and illegal dumping. Backcountry campfires and illegal off-roading could cause wildfires, and marijuana farms could alter ecosystems and bring crime to nearby communities.
California’s state park system, the largest in the United States, generates more in visitor spending and tax revenues than is allocated to the parks annually. It also creates thousands of jobs, and many local businesses depend on state parks for their livelihood.
Closing state parks also carries inevitable environmental consequences. The image of nature recovering from human use and flourishing to become a pristine landscape is comforting but unrealistic. Introduced plant and wildlife maintenance will halt, threatening native plants and wildlife with local extinction. Restoration projects will be abandoned and trails will go untended.
Even if such economic and environmental problems were somehow magically avoided, state legislators are looking at the issue from a purely budgetary perspective and are blind to the full implications of their actions. The state park system was not founded to generate revenue but exists to preserve California’s natural and historic lands.
Experiences in nature are sacrosanct and the true value of a state park is indescribable. By putting a price tag on parks, the state is devaluing the lifestyles and passions of many Californians.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of park supporters that have mounted campaigns to save the parks, working with local governments, volunteers and nonprofit groups. Their work has caused three of California’s parks to be taken off the closure list. However, this is largely temporary, and unless a long-term solution is found, these parks will likely lose funding after a few years.
Other creative solutions such as park management by counties and cities, legislation generating funding for parks and limited private management should be explored.
Sunday was Earth Day, an opportune time to begin thinking about what access to nature means to you. Write to the governor, make donations or volunteer — just make sure your voice is heard.
But before you do anything, go out and visit a state park — while you still can.