In an attempt to reduce California’s severe budget problems, officials will be closing 70 state parks across California, eliminating 220 jobs and closing redwood forests, historic sites and coastal woodlands. This move will save California $33 million, as part of a larger plan to close a deficit of roughly $15 billion. All together, the parks that are scheduled to be closed attract 5.6 million visitors a year.
Environmental activists are understandably upset about the decision. “This is a pretty devastating list,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, executive director of the California State Parks Foundation. “It represents 25 percent of the park system and, for the Bay Area, it’s a big hit.”
Resources Secretary John Laird, however, blamed Republicans who are stalling the Democrats’ attempts to extend tax increases that expire this summer. “Hopefully, Republicans in the legislature will agree to allow California voters to decide whether we extend currently existing taxes or make deeper cuts to our parks,” said Laird. He warned that without more revenue, more cuts will have to be made.
Parks officials, meanwhile, are saying, rather ambitiously, that they want to keep “92 percent of the state park system’s attendance and 94 percent of its revenue.” This is in spite of the fact that while not all parks will be closed completely, over half of the state’s 278 state parks have suffered budget cuts, putting park staffing at the level that it was at in 1979, with 10 million more visitors a year.
The state historic parks are the hardest hit. But the question of how officials will effectively close the parks is also unclear. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, people have continued to use the partially closed parks, and the most officials can do is put up roadblocks and signs. The parks might also be available for special events if people are willing to pay. And officials added that parks could be saved if nonprofits or local governments take over administration and funding.
“At a time when we want to encourage more people to get out and recreate and enjoy the outdoors, we are closing down opportunities,” said Ruskin Hartley, executive director of San Francisco’s Save the Redwoods League. “What is California without its redwoods and its beaches and its mountains?”
Photo from Flickr.