Castle Rock State Park, a rugged expanse of Douglas fir and madrone trees known for its sweeping views to the Pacific Ocean and honeycombed sandstone rock formations, will be removed from the state’s closure list.
Under a deal set to be announced Wednesday, the popular park, which sits atop the ridgeline of the Santa Cruz Mountains on the Santa Clara-Santa Cruz county line, will receive a $250,000 donation — enough to keep it open for another year — from the Sempervirens Fund, a nonprofit conservation group in Los Altos.
“We’ve been worried that once it closed, it might be a permanent closure,” said Reed Holderman, executive director of the fund. “This is a difficult period of time. Everybody needs to do what they can to get through it. We view this as a one-year reprieve, but we haven’t solved the problem. How do we keep parks open and make them self-sustaining?”
The deal also will open up 1,340 acres on the park’s southern boundary that have been closed to the public for more than a decade. And another plan in the works would construct a new park entrance on Summit Road, creating a distinctive trailhead for one of the most storied hikes in the Bay Area.
In an effort to save $22 million statewide, Gov. Jerry Brown announced last year that 70 parks — one quarter of California’s system of 280 state parks — will close by July 1. If the closures go through, as expected, Brown would become the first governor in the 110-year history of the state park system to shutter parks to balance the budget.
Specifics about Castle Rock staffing levels and operating hours are still being worked out between state officials and the Sempervirens Fund. But when finalized, the arrangement will bring to 10 the number of state parks saved from closure.
“We’re thrilled when partners like Sempervirens demonstrate such a strong commitment to the protection of our valuable resources,” said Ruth Coleman, California state parks director. “We now look forward to completing the final negotiations that will keep this park open.”
In September, Henry W. Coe State Park near Morgan Hill was saved from the closure list when the Coe Park Preservation Fund, a nonprofit group, announced it would provide $300,000 a year for the next three years to pay for ranger salaries and other expenses.
The Castle Rock donation is expected to pay the salary and health benefits of one full-time ranger, one full-time maintenance person and several part-time summer seasonal park aides.
The deal also will open for the first time a 1,340-acre parcel on the park’s southern boundary. The land, known as San Lorenzo River Redwoods, was purchased in 2000 by the Sempervirens Fund for $10 million from the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, which had considered logging it. The nonprofit sold the land to the state in 2004, but the state refused to open it to the public, saying it didn’t have enough rangers to patrol it.
Meanwhile, Sempervirens, named for the Latin word for redwood, also is working on a $4 million proposal to build a stylish new entrance to Castle Rock on Summit Road. The current entrance, a cramped dirt lot with dilapidated pit toilets, would be replaced by 2014. The plan would convert a nearby 33-acre Christmas tree farm that Sempervirens purchased two years ago into a new parking area, with flush toilets, picnic sites, native plants, a small outdoor amphitheater and the trail head for the Skyline to the Sea Trail, which runs 30 miles to the ocean.
“Castle Rock has stunning views. You have the big rocks, wilderness and views that go for miles,” Holderman said. “But this park can be so much more.”
The park is popular with Silicon Valley hikers and campers. It was established in 1968, after Dorothy Varian, the widow of Cupertino electronics pioneer Russell Varian, helped buy and donate 566 acres for a park. Since then, the Sempervirens Fund and the state have expanded its size, although its facilities have become worn.
Other parks on California’s closure list have been saved in recent months through various agreements.
Tomales Bay and Samuel P. Taylor state parks in Marin County, along with Del Norte Redwoods near the Oregon border, were removed from the closure list after the National Park Service agreed to provide rangers from nearby parks for a year.
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, in the Eastern Sierra, will stay open under a deal with the Bodie Foundation. Private donors have committed to keep open Antelope Valley Indian Museum near Los Angeles and McGrath State Beach in Ventura County. And local governments have worked out deals to keep open Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area and South Yuba River State Historical Park.
Talks are under way with local governments and nonprofits on about 20 other parks that might be saved, according to state parks officials, including Sonoma Coast, Santa Cruz Mission, Benicia State Recreation Area, Jack London, Petaluma Adobe, Point Cabrillo Light Station, Twin Lakes State Beach and Portola Redwoods in San Mateo County.
But even if all are somehow kept open, at least 40 parks still would be padlocked in less than four months.
“We’re glad that these places are going to have a temporary reprieve from the threat of closure,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation.
“But we’re very concerned about those that don’t seem to have a reprieve in their future. We’re worried about everything from vandalism to forest fires — a litany of harm that could come to these places.”
Goldstein said that environmental leaders, who lost a ballot measure a year ago seeking to fund state parks through an $18 increase on vehicle registration, are searching for solutions. Those include a potential state ballot measure, regional ballot measures, increased private donations and other efforts.
In the meantime, Sempervirens Fund, which started the state park system in 1902 by saving the redwood land that became Big Basin, is looking for more private donations to fund its Castle Rock efforts.