Budget Woes Place California’s State Parks in Jeopardy

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California's magnificent state park system is facing the most severe budget cutbacks in its 100-plus year history. Saddled with a $24.3 billion deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has set forth a shortsighted proposal to slash funding for state parks by $70 million next year, and eliminate it entirely the following year. This means that about 80% of the parks will be shut down, starting as early as September. To put this in perspective, the public will soon be losing access to about 1.3 million acres of parkland - a vast expanse larger in area than the Grand Canyon and akin to closing down the entire state of Delaware.

The list of parks that will be closed is eye-opening. From the oldest state park (Big Basin Redwoods, 1902) to the largest park by acreage (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, over 600,000 acres - about double the size of Los Angeles), every corner of the state will be affected. In southern California alone, we are on the verge of seeing forty parks close down indefinitely, including two sorely needed urban parks in the densely populated, racially and economically diverse neighborhoods of downtown L.A. - Los Angeles State Historic Park (aka the Cornfield) and Rio de Los Angeles State Park (aka Taylor Yard). The parks closure proposal also comes on the heels of an announcement that the Los Angeles Unified School District will cancel all summer school classes, a virtual one-two punch to L.A.'s youth.

Some parks can remain open because they are supported by boating or off-highway vehicle gas taxes, or are operated locally or by concessionaires. However, the vast majority of California's treasured state parks will be forced to close, putting millions of acres of spectacular landscapes and vistas, historical landmarks and cultural relics, and low-cost recreational facilities off-limits to Californians.

These are clearly trying times, and this year's unprecedented budget challenges are forcing the governor and Legislature to have to make some very difficult decisions. Education, healthcare and other essential public services are certain to experience painful cuts. But the massive scale of cutbacks proposed by the Governor is by far the worst the state park system has had to endure in its long history. The proposal fails even to make economic sense, as the general fund budget for state parks amounts to less than one-tenth of one percent of the state budget. Our state parks serve as an enormous economic engine, attracting 80 million visitors a year and generating revenues of $2.1 billion in direct expenditures and $4 billion more in indirect spending. In exchange for comparatively small savings, the state would lose these tremendous sources of revenue, as well as thousands of jobs statewide.

Our state parks provide inexpensive recreation opportunities, much-needed managed habitat for plants and wildlife, valuable open space for urban dwellers, and an enviable variety of natural landscapes and scenery. It would be a shame to lose these important benefits because of this profoundly shortsighted proposal. The California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) has mounted a campaign to reject the Governor's plan - you can click here to find out more and take action. There is also a budget hearing in Sacramento today, where CSPF, NRDC, and other groups will be sure to fight to keep our state parks open for all Californians to enjoy.