When California’s Department of Parks and Recreation announced last year it would be closing a quarter of its parks due to budget cuts, millions of nature-loving Californians were devastated.
But, according to a report by the Huffington Post, there may be some relief ahead.
With the July 1 closure deadline looming, nearly half of the 70 parks originally slated to be shut down have been saved, and the state is in the process of negotiating agreements to keep nearly two-thirds open past that deadline.
The methods used to rescue the parks are varied, but they fall into a few distinct categories. Some received large donations from private individuals or conservation organizations, others were taken over by local municipalities or the federal government and a small handful, most controversially, are being privatized.
Though private companies (both of the non- and for-profit varieties) have long operated inside virtually all of California’s green spaces, having non-governmental groups handle the operation of an entire state park is relatively new. Last year, the legislature passed a bill allowing private organizations to take over the operation of California’s parks without first having to gain approval for each individual decision.
A recent report by the Legislative Analyst Office estimated that, by privatizing the operation of many parks, the state could save tens of millions of dollars each year.
Parks Department Deputy Director Roy Stearns admits that the idea has been met with some hostility. State Senator Noreen Evans, for example, said that park privatization is “inconsistent with serving the public.”
“We’ve gotten some pushback, but people are more and more coming to the realization that our budget has serious problems,” Stearns told The Huffington Post. “There are private companies in the Parks and Rec business that do it well. People shouldn’t see private enterprise as a dirty word. Our main goal is to get though these tough times.”
Other states have considered going the privatization route, but California is the first to actually implement it. Currently, the state is in final negotiations on private operation for six parks: Castle Crags, Benbow Lake, Woodson Bridge, Brannan Island, Turlock Lake and Limekiln.