Editorial: Newspaper Argues for Park's Rescue
Editor's Note: The following editorial appeared in Thursday's (Feb. 9) edition of U-T San Diego.
If the waterfront is San Diego’s front porch, then Anza-Borrego Desert State Park surely is its backyard. The largest state park in California, located just 60 miles away, Anza-Borrego’s 640,000 acres of desert, oases, canyons, mountains and forests have provided spectacular recreational opportunities for generations of San Diegans.
Now, this splendid resource is in trouble. Anza-Borrego is just one of many victims of California’s chronic financial crisis, but budget reductions beyond a certain point are a special problem for a facility like this.
Anza-Borrego’s 1,000 square miles cannot simply be shuttered until the crisis passes. Its boundaries are not fenced, its trails and campgrounds are not gated, and its vast expanses are open at all times to hikers and jeepers, as well as persons with less innocent intentions. Already, the Visitor Center is kept open only by private donations, campgrounds are closed, the ranger staff has been slashed, and maintenance is repeatedly postponed.
In the absence of enough professional staff, the park and the public are vulnerable in numerous ways. Hikers can get lost in the back country and vehicles can break down on remote trails. Sensitive habitat can be destroyed by careless visitors and illegal off-roaders, and endangered species can be captured or killed by poachers. Archaeological and historical sites can be vandalized and hazardous waste can be illegally dumped. The effects of even a few such incidents far outweigh any cost savings from reducing the park budget. This is a valuable public resource in which the public already has a huge investment, one which should not be squandered for short-term considerations.
Private support organizations, such as the Anza-Borrego Foundation and the California State Parks Foundation, help fill the gaps left by the shortfall in public funding, but their limited resources cannot meet the full needs of this enormous park.
What, then, is to be done with Anza-Borrego? If closing it is not an option, some means must be found to fund a respectable level of operation and public service. After all, with the currently proposed reduction in the entire state parks budget comprising just two hundredths of 1 percent of total general fund expenditures, the cost of restoring Anza-Borrego’s budget to a decent level is essentially what accountants refer to as a rounding error.
Some suggest increasing user fees. Currently, there is no admission fee to the park, and no fee for using most facilities. However, given the size of the park and the number of points of entry, enforcing such fees would overwhelm the ranger staff, as officials found when this was tried previously.
Many large parks have a variety of income-producing commercial concessions. Here, ample visitor services already are provided in the town of Borrego Springs, surrounded by the park.
The most appealing solution is a dedicated funding source. This approach was attempted recently, when Proposition 21 on the November 2011 ballot proposed a surcharge to motor vehicle license fees to raise ongoing funding for the entire state park system, but it was rejected decisively.
Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “in wildness is the preservation of the world.” For San Diegans, indeed for all Californians, there are few wild places to match Anza-Borrego.