Innovative Plan to Fund California's State Parks Qualifies for Ballot

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On Thursday, an initiative that would create a reliable and adequate funding source for California’s world-renowned state park system qualified for the November ballot.  I’m excited about this plan to create a new State Parks Access Pass, and encourage all Californians to support it.

The state park system reflects the beauty and diversity of California itself.  But last summer, Governor Schwarzenegger recommended closing 80 percent of the parks to help bridge the state’s budget gap.  That move prompted public outcry and motivated parks supporters to look for a new source of funding.

The California State Parks Foundation came up with a solution.  The ballot initiative, formally known as the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010, would raise $500 million a year for parks through an $18 surcharge on annual vehicle registrations.  Vehicles, in turn, would receive free, year-round park day passes.

The idea has proved popular and has attracted a broad coalition.  Conservation and environmental groups like NRDC, of course, recognize the importance of protecting open spaces, wildlife habitat, and historic and cultural resources.  Social justice groups, meanwhile, want to protect parks because of the recreational outlets they provide to communities that often lack sufficient green space.

And everyone – including the business community and tourism industry – understands that state parks are a vital economic engine that contributes significantly to the state’s economy.  A California State University at Sacramento study confirmed this argument, finding that state park visitors spend $4.32 billion a year in park-related expenditures and that each park visitor spends an average of $57.63 in communities near parks.  (For more on the study, please visit my earlier blog.)

But for all its inherent appeal, this initiative will not succeed – and our treasured state parks will not thrive – without the approval of the voters.  So, to all of our friends up and down the Golden State – we hope that, as the election nears, you will remember the initiative and that, in the meantime, you will support it.

(Photo © Pamela Marches. Used with permission.)