In the first few months after California announced its park closures in May 2011, park advocates were stunned and outraged, according to a report by The Bay Citizen. The state was tearing down 25% of a world-renowned system – 70 parks in all.
Almost a year later the state parks closure cloud still looms, big and black. But dozens of small victories and individual acts of courage are adding a silver lining.
The good news started with some wins last year. A handful of beach lovers and staff at McGrath State Beach near Ventura raised half a million dollars for the new sewage system that is keeping that park open. And a nonprofit, the Coe Park Preservation Fund, raised more than $500,000 to protect its namesake park near San Jose.
Institutional neighbors stepped up, too. The National Park Service has pledged to keep Tomales Bay, Samuel P. Taylor, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods state parks open for at least a year. Counties and cities have offered to provide services at parks within their borders.
“People are beginning to be mobilized in a way they haven’t before,” said California State Parks Foundation president Elizabeth Goldstein.
At the same time, promising and dedicated grassroots leaders have emerged. To name a few: Greg Hayes, a former state park superintendent, has forsaken retirement to try to rescue Jack London Historic State Park; Kathy Bailey, a longtime resident of Northern California’s Anderson Valley, is devoting her days to working with her neighbors to keep Hendy Woods State Park open; Robert Hanna, not long ago a sales manager in a financial firm, has teamed up with activists at several state parks to “do everything I can to help keep parks open.” Perhaps Hanna was destined to be a leader; he is John Muir’s 31-year-old great-great grandson. Somehow this crisis has led him and dozens of other Californians to a new calling: preserving state parks.
Inside and outside the bureaucracy, the crisis has highlighted some not-so-new ideas. At Samuel P. Taylor State Park, in Marin, supervising ranger Rose Blackburn is reassessing her use of volunteer campground hosts. In exchange for free RV space, they work 20 hours a week helping park visitors and handling emergencies. In peak season, she now has two campground hosts and may expand that to three or four, with one host concentrating on maintenance. One surefire revenue enhancement at Taylor is a new lodging option: five new primitive cabins that she hopes will be ready for visitors this summer, at $100 a night or so (compared with $35 for a campsite).
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