On November 2, voters will decide if California should do something it has never done before: provide dedicated funding for its state parks. California State Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein says park funding has been declining for 30 years. That has led to deteriorating infrastructure, a backlog of $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance, and the closure of historic buildings. Park managers have been forced to cut services to the most basic level: clean bathrooms and public safety. In the last two years, the downward trend has neared the bottom, forcing administrators to close some parks on weekdays and to consider shuttering some parks altogether.
That gloomy scenario could change dramatically with the passage of Proposition 21, the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010, which would add an $18 registration surcharge for most vehicles. In exchange, all California vehicle drivers and their passengers will gain free day-use access to state parks and beaches, some of which currently charge up to $15 admission.
“If Proposition 21 passes, it will be a new day for us,” says Santa Cruz District Superintendent Chet Bardo, who has had to make do with inadequate and uncertain funding over his three decades with the parks. He looks forward to the possibility of being able to repair and open structures such as the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the San Mateo Coast, where public tours were halted when a chunk of brick and iron fell from the tower.
With projected funds of about $500 million a year in the new state parks fund, Bardo envisions that district managers would be able to address long-neglected core projects: not just repairing infrastructure but also enhancing natural and cultural resources and implementing the interpretation and education services that drew so many state park employees to their jobs in the first place.
Goldstein imagines a day when the park system is once again the best in the nation. But she’s also a local girl who looks forward to finding all of Angel Island’s restrooms clean and open and all its campgrounds, picnic areas, and trails in good condition. And she envisions a robust array of interpretive programs, not just for the Immigration Station but for all the historic sites, and frequent docent-led nature walks and bike trips. “The essence of the park will be the same,” she says, “but the facets of the jewel will be buffed up in ways that they can’t be now.”
Find out more about the California State Parks Initiative campaign at yesforstateparks.com.