Budget Cuts Cast Shadow over California State Parks
Visitors to California’s state parks this week are seeing changes.
The gates to parking lots have come down. Some campgrounds have closed. And visitor centers, restrooms and other park facilities are keeping shorter hours, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
“It’s going to make it a real tough place for traveling,” said San Diego resident Susan Harris, who drove to Santa Cruz to visit her daughter last week and worries the return trip in her recreational vehicle could be hampered. “I’m calling parks ahead, and they’ll say, ‘We’re closed,’ and I’ll have to move on.”
Harris’ daughter, Tracy Hicks, watching the sunset with her mother at Natural Bridges State Beach on Monday, said she hadn’t noticed any problems at the parks yet. But she worries about the coming months.
“If the state park (employees) aren’t coming by to do their routine checks and see if things are clean, there’s a safety concern,” she said.
Cutbacks at state parks are the result of California’s struggling finances. In Santa Cruz County, the reductions began earlier this fall as local park administrators anticipated the hits and began trying to save where they could – locking little-used restrooms and putting out fewer trash cans to reduce maintenance and patrol costs.
This week, though, the full menu of cuts took hold. Day-use parking lots were shut to weekday visitors at Palm State Beach and Manresa Uplands, and longer winter closures began at campgrounds at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and Manresa Uplands.
Nearly all parks are now offering fewer services and less upkeep.
Local administrators say they’re trying to target the cuts to where the fewest people are affected.
“Visitors may not be able to go to their favorite campground in the mountains,” said Karl Tallman, a parks superintendent who oversees Big Basin Redwoods and a handful of nearby parks. “But at least they’ll have a campground to go to.”
Campsites at Big Basin are still open, though Tallman says that could change if the state budget situation worsens.
Reductions are normal in parks during the winter, but this year’s go much deeper. Though no full-time rangers or maintenance workers have been laid off, statewide furloughs mean employees are working three days a month less, and diminished funds mean smaller part-time staffs.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had originally called for closing 100 parks outright because of state budget shortfalls. After that plan met opposition, the administration instead proposed smaller but more widespread reductions throughout the 270-plus park system.
Most of the cuts this week are expected to continue through the state’s fiscal year, which ends June 30, and perhaps longer.
To try to offset reductions, advocates at Friends of Santa Cruz Parks have escalated fund-raising efforts. Saving a farm animal program at Wilder Ranch is one priority.
The California State Parks Foundation, meanwhile, is looking to sponsor a state ballot measure that would raise more money for parks through a $15 hike in vehicle registration fees. The benefit of this effort, however, wouldn’t be felt until next year.