Closing California’s state parks to help balance the financially strapped state’s budget would do little to help the $24 billion shortfall and could harm the privately owned RV parks and campgrounds in the Golden State.
So says the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) which is lobbying state legislators to find a compromise to the closures, according to Debbie Sipe, CalARVC executive director.
CalARVC board members met late last week and discussed the state’s financial crisis. While it took no formal vote on the budget crisis, the sentiment was “we are opposed to the closures,” she said.
“Even though it could be a boom to many of our members, we are worried about the potential backlash” to the 370 CalARVC member parks, she said.
If state parks are closed, the public might wrongly assume that private parks are closed too, she said.
And from a service point of view, “We don’t think we could absorb the full influx of campers out there,” she added.
CalARVC member parks offer approximately 44,000 campsites, but that would fall short of the camping demand if most of the state’s 279 state parks and campgrounds were closed, she said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest proposal to tackle the state’s $24.3 billion shortfall includes the elimination of all general fund contributions to California’s 279 parks within two years.
It is a nightmare scenario that would mean the public could be barred from visiting 223 parks – that’s 80% of the state-owned parks, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“That’s just horrendous,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation. “It could impact these environmental and cultural resources for decades and decades.”
The proposal already has been subject to intense lobbying in the Legislature. Between now and July 1, when the fiscal year starts, the state parks would be asked to cut $70 million of the $150 million the park system receives from the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2009-10. The remainder would be cut out in the 2010-11 budget.
Eliminating state contributions, most of which go toward paying staff, would mean maintenance workers, office technicians, park superintendents, landscapers, rangers, environmental scientists, administrative officers and bookkeepers would have to be laid off. Camping, boating and day use fees would also have to be raised, said Roy Stearns, the parks spokesman.
CalARVC members are working with the California Travel Industry Association in lobbying efforts to swing state legislators to some type of compromise that would keep parks open, at least part time, Sipe said.
Goldstein’s group is heading up the lobbying effort.
The lobbying effort already has brought out some 110 state park “advocates” to a budget hearing last week, Sipe noted. Sixty of them testified at the hearing.
In addition, 36,000 people have sent 100,000 letters and e-mails to the governor and state legislature in support of keeping parks open.
Lobbyists are asking the director of state parks to put together a task force to recommend a compromise, Sipe said.
“No matter what,” Sipe sid, “even if state parks stay open, they’ll get a good hatchet job on their budgets.”
The task force “needs to look at creative ways to keep state parks open,” she said, perhaps closing for a few days in mid-week and cutting back on winter hours.
“The pressure to get this done is very intense,” Sipe stressed, as the state has no budget past June 30 and begins to run out of money on that date.
Drastic cuts are necessary, the governor said, because of the slipping economy, declining revenues and a deficit that deepened after voters rejected five budget measures designed to help close the gap. Goldstein argued, however, that the savings derived from cutting the parks out of the budget would amount to 0.26% of the $24.3 billion budget gap.
“It’s a very, very tiny portion of the financial need, but the impacts would be draconian to say the least,” Goldstein said. “Not only is this bad for people who are relying on state parks more than they ever have for recreation and vacation, but it is also bad for the communities surrounding these parks.”
Stearns said 79.6 million people visited state parks last year. A huge number of reservations for campgrounds have already been made throughout the summer and into November, he said. Analysts estimate park visitors spend roughly $2.6 billion a year in and around the parks.
Goldstein said for every dollar spent, the state parks generate $2.35 in tax revenue from economic activity in the local communities surrounding the parks. That means the state could potentially see a reduction in revenue by closing the parks.
That’s not even counting the loss of day-use fees and the cost of patrolling the closed parks to make sure arsonists, vandals, transients, hunters and marijuana growers don’t move in, she said.
The economy may be mired in recession, but that hasn’t stopped private campground owners in California – the nation’s leading market for RVs and camping – from investing in new campsites, cabins and other upgrades for the upcoming camping season, according to a report from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“Campground and RV park operators know that the recession is temporary that it behooves them to continue making improvements to their parks so that they can compete with other travel and tourism options,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
As a result, she said, many private park operators are investing in new facilities and amenities this year, which include everything from new campsites and cabins to hot tubs and swimming pools. For example:
- Auburn Gold Country RV Park, Auburn: This property, which includes 66 RV sites, 20 tent sites and two cabins is getting a $300,000 facelift, which will include upgrading many of its campsites with 50-amp electrical and Wi-Fi service.
- Bakersfield Palms RV Park, Bakersfield: This park recently completed a $1 million expansion and plans to open a new 20-site section for overnight travelers in May. The new section has premium campsites that are 25 feet wide and 70 feet long. The new sites have 50-amp electrical pedestals as well as telephone, cable TV and Wi-Fi service. The existing section of the park has 112 sites.
- Campland on the Bay, San Diego: This RV resort is spending up to $50,000 this year on a skate park, which is expected to open before Memorial Day weekend. The park is also spending $100,000 on other infrastructure improvements, including a leash-free dog park.
- Far Horizons 49’er Village RV Resort, Plymouth: This 329-site park, which also has 13 park model rentals, is planning to spend about $200,000 in improvements this year, mostly involving the park’s swimming pool complex.
- Flying Flags RV Resort, Buellton: This RV resort, located near the Dutch-themed town of Solvang, has budgeted $550,000 for improvements this year, including three recreational-park trailer cabin rental units, a fitness center, electrical and sewer service upgrades, renovation of campsites, cable television system upgrades and new landscaping.
- Frandy Park Campground, Kernville: This park, which has 18 campsites on the Kern River and 60 sites off the river, just installed new asphalt at the entrance to the park. The park is also making landscaping improvements and is installing a new dump tank. The total investment in improvements is expected to be close to $70,000.
- Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground, Klamath: This 33-acre park, which is located in Big Foot country with one quarter mile of frontage along the Klamath River, plans to spend more than $30,000 in improvements this year, which will include construction of 26 new tent sites and three more RV sites.
- Pismo Coast Village RV Resort, Pismo Beach: This park is investing more than $700,000 in improvements this year, including the renovation of 51 campsites, which will be upgraded to 50-amp electrical service; the renovation of the swimming and wading pools, road paving and other electrical upgrades. The park is also planning to continue its improvement effort next year and develop another 20-acre site for RV storage.
- Premier RV Resorts, Redding: This park, which has 84 RV sites, 12 tent sites and two yurts, is planning to do a 21-site expansion this year. Other improvements include a new hot tub and a fenced dog-run area. These improvements are expected to cost about $500,000.
- Rancho Los Coches RV Park, Lakeside: This park has invested more than $30,000 in a variety of improvements this year, including renovations to its swimming pool and hot tub and new pool furniture. The park has also built a fitness room and made landscaping improvements with new flowers, shade trees and palm trees, including two Taiwanese King Kong Palms.
- San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA: This park is investing about $200,000 in improvements this year, which include finishing up a 4,000-square-foot dog park and remodeling the camp store. The park has also expanded its lodging with the purchase of six park model cabins last year. The park has 312 sites, including 34 cabins and a total of 10 park models.
- SunLand RV Resorts: This La Jolla-based chain, which has six parks in Riverside and San Diego counties, is upgrading its Wi-Fi system capabilities this year. SunLand’s parks include Golden Village Palms in Hemet, San Diego RV Resort in La Mesa, Escondido RV Resort in Escondido as well as three parks in El Cajon, including Oak Creek RV Resort, Circle RV Resort and Vacationer RV Resort
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) is taking a bold pro-environmental stand with regard to formaldehyde in holding tank treatments by asking three of the nation’s leading distributors of aftermarket parts and accessories, Camping World Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., Coast Distribution System Inc., Morgan Hill, Calif., and Stag Parkway Inc., Atlanta, Ga., to halt shipments of chemicals containing the controversial chemical into the Golden State.
In letters to the CEOs of the three firms, Debbie Sipe, CalARVC executive director, wrote, “Several studies have concluded that RV holding tank products that contain formaldehyde are harmful to consumers, while posing a significant threat to groundwater quality. Campground operators have also learned that while chemically based holding tank products effectively control sewage odors, they also destroy the bacteria that’s needed to break down the wastes contained in septic systems. Septic tank failures ultimately occur, costing campground operators tens of thousands of dollars in septic system repairs.”
She noted that the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) posted a fact sheet in January alerting consumers to these risks, while encouraging them to purchase holding tank products that do not contain formaldehyde.
Given these environmental hazards, she continued, CalARVC asked the three firms to refrain from selling these products in California and instead market environmentally friendly holding tank products, as recommended by the DTSC.
Sipe urged the companies to educate their customers about the dangers of using chemically based holding tank products.
“We think (the three firms) could make a positive statement on this issue by announcing its decision to ban these products on or before April 22, when our nation celebrates Earth Day,” she said. “We look forward to receiving your thoughts on this matter at your earliest opportunity.”