By Claudia Cowan, ,
Published December 23, 2015
Many Californians cannot believe it's come to this: closing 70 state parks to save $22 million over the next couple of years.
That may not sound like a lot, but many of the Golden State's parks are in varying states of disrepair and need $1.3 billion dollars of deferred maintenance.
Needing to cut costs wherever he can, Gov. Jerry Brown looked at the parks with the highest repair bills and the least significance -- cultural, historic, economic or otherwise.
But some, like the old Governor's Mansion in Sacramento, are very popular, while sites like writer Jack London's ranch in Sonoma County are considered local treasures. The second-largest state park in California, Henry Coe in Santa Clara County, is also on the closure list.
"We've reached a point where we've had the last straw to break the camel's back, but there's no other choice but to close," says Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications for the California State Parks Department.
By law, California can't sell any of the parks, so it's looking for ways to keep as many of them as possible open to the public. A number of ideas are being considered, from working with volunteer caretakers to getting financing through corporate sponsorships -- though, unlike stadiums, no naming rights are allowed here.
"The public should know we're not going to name a park after a company. We're not going to put up advertising in our park because that's prohibited by our own guidelines and law," Stearns said.
In Marin County, a local businessman wants to bankroll an effort that would allow volunteers and hired teens to operate the popular Samuel P. Taylor campground on a shoestring.
And in Sacramento, pending legislation calls for the state to team up with nonprofits or other government agencies.
"You may have a state park right next to a federal park that the National Park Service runs. There may be some co-management agreement we can enter to keep that park open," the bill's author, Democratic Assemblyman Jarred Huffman said.
Even if parks close, people will still have access to forests, deserts and beaches, prompting worries about public safety, fire danger and more.
"There are big concerns about the resources in these state parks once they're closed, not only cultural and historic resources, historic buildings, cultural sites. There's big concern about vandalism, theft in wilderness areas," Jerry Emory of the California Parks Foundation said.
There's no easy answers, the clock is ticking and a lot of California history, wildlife and recreational opportunities hang in the balance.
For now, state officials hope visitors will police themselves and maintain the parks for free, while check out some of the 208 state parks in California that are still open, at least for now.