Sep 15

Keep out: By closing its parks, California is killing an economic engine

From Santa Rosa Press Democrat: by Christa Jeremiason

From foggy Del Norte Coast Redwoods to sun-splashed South Carlsbad State Beach, nearly every state park (was packed Labor Day.)
For many families, the parks offer an affordable vacation in times of economic uncertainty. They’re safe, accessible outlets for recreation, repositories of history and culture, reflections of California’s grandeur. About 75 million people visit state parks annually, and they generate billions of dollars of economic activity.
And, inexplicably, they’re endangered.
Beginning in the next week or two, the state will begin closing as many as 100 parks because shortsighted, feckless officials are unwilling to save them. The closures could ultimately cover almost half of the state park system.
The savings: $14 million.That’s million with an “m,” less than 1 percent of the $26 billion with a “b” shortfall that was supposed to be solved with the budget revisions approved this summer.
The state’s meager savings will be more than offset by immense losses to the communities near the parks. According to a survey of nearly 10,000 visitors to 27 state parks by researchers from California State University, Sacramento, the average visitor spends $57 a day, including $33 outside the parks.
That adds up to $4.2 billion in economic activity annually, most of it benefiting nearby merchants and other businesses, while cycling sales tax dollars back into state and local treasuries.
These are hardly the sanguine thoughts of a three-day weekend. But state parks officials made Labor Day a turning point by declining to identify which parks would be closed …
A fee increase last month apparently didn’t dampen enthusiam for the parks, as most campsites were sold out in advance of Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, park supporters have staged rallies across the state, and the nonprofit California Parks Foundation said it will try to raise $500 million to help keep the parks open.
On a recent Sunday morning, about two dozen people hit the trails at Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa. Costumed demonstrators gathered for a Hollywood-style protest at Will Rogers State Beach near Los Angeles. The Russian ambassador to the United States traveled to Fort Ross, a park commemorating a Russian trading post established in 1812.
Expect more rallies when the hit list is released, and don’t be surprised if some of the legislators who demanded deep budget cuts urge the governor to spare parks in their districts. Perhaps they should have supported a proposal to increase license plate fees by $15�enough to pay for the park system and give every California-licensed vehicle a free, year-round state park pass.
California residents are experiencing painful cuts in public programs. But padlocked gates at state parks still can�and should�be avoided.