Hidden Funds May Hold Silver Lining
There may be a "silver lining" to the California state parks fund scandal for Palomar Mountain State Park, an advocate and fundraiser for the scenic park said on Thursday (Aug. 23).
The North County Times reported that state lawmakers are considering using some of the $54 million in hidden state park funds uncovered last month to match private donations that flowed in for parks slated for closure last year, according to the advocate and a letter from the California State Parks Foundation.
The disclosure of the hidden park funds followed warnings from the state that 70 parks would be shuttered July 1 because of lack of money — a move that never took place.
The fund scandal led to the resignation of top parks officials last month.
"There could be a silver lining from all this," said the advocate, Rick Barclay, chairman of the nonprofit Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park, referring to the possible use of some of the previously undisclosed money. "It's good for Palomar."
Barclay said lawmakers could approve Assembly Bill 1478 within the next week. If approved as written, that bill would designate $10 million for dollar-to-dollar matches for all contributions to parks that signed deals with the state for the 2012-13 fiscal year, according to the foundation's letter.
Another $10 million would be directed to parks "that remain at risk of closure," the letter said.
Campgrounds at the picturesque Palomar Mountain park, about an hour northeast of Escondido, closed in October because of state budget cuts. That left the park open for day use only.
The state reopened the campgrounds in April as the nonprofit raised money.
The mountain park has more than 11 miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, a fishing pond, meadows and coniferous forests on 1,862 acres. It is often compared with recreational spots in the Sierra Nevada.
Barclay's nonprofit signed a three-year deal with the state to use the money it raised to keep Palomar open. The nonprofit has about $130,000 in donations in the bank, Barclay said.
Some pledges, however, fell through after the parks fund scandal was disclosed, he said.
"We had a couple pledgers who cited the (scandal) as reason for not following through," Barclay said. "But not one has asked for their money back. We take that as a good sign."
The nonprofit has decided to temporarily pause its fundraising campaign "to wait and see how the dust settles," he added.
Nedra Martinez, a top parks official for the region, did not return a call for comment on Thursday.