In 1953, Sada Coe gave her family ranch to the public, with the stipulation that it become parkland and that it be named after her father, Henry W. Coe. Several years later, she reiterated her passion for sharing the land by funding a new visitor center there. All that was done decades ago.
But now it’s possible that the gates to this 87,000-acre park, the largest state park in Northern California, will be closed to visitors. The front gate can be locked, but the logistics of keeping people out of this South Bay wilderness park will be next to impossible, says Jerry Emory with the California State Parks Foundation. “People love that place and will get in no matter what signs they see,” he says. “It’s rough and wild country and there are multiple ways to get in. It’s amazing that we have a chunk of land like that so close to San Jose.”
Coe is one of the 48 state parks proposed for closure to help reduce the state’s projected $16 billion shortfall in the 2008-2009 budget. When Governor Schwarzenegger asked for 10 percent across-the-board cuts from all departments in his draft budget in January, state park officials saw no other option but to close parks. The parks have already taken several hits from budget cuts starting in the early 1990s, leading to a $1 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. Closing 48 parks, along with lifeguard staffing reductions, would yield an estimated $8.9 million in savings, but it would also sacrifice $4.8 million in revenue from fees.
“That might sound like a lot,” says Traci Verardo-Torres, legislative and policy director for the California State Parks Foundation, “but in a $141 billion budget, we’re talking nickels and dimes.”
Through the years, volunteers and philanthropists have stepped in to help. Henry Coe has over 135 volunteers who run the visitor center, give wildflower walks, patrol the parks, and compile extensive plant and animal lists. The nonprofit, all-volunteer Pine Ridge Association runs a park website, raises funds for park facilities, and plans such events as the Mother’s Day Breakfast benefit (which is always sold out) and the annual Backcountry Weekend. The Pine Ridge Association is just one of 80 cooperating associations, which together mobilize 17,000 volunteers who provide support to our state parks.
“We can’t bake-sale our way out of this problem,” says Verardo-Torres. “The role of philanthropy and volunteerism is to enhance value, not replace state responsibilities.”
Other Bay Area state parks slated for closure include Sonoma Coast State Park with 21 miles of beaches; Benicia State Recreation Area, with a brand-new, volunteer-run native plant garden; Tomales Bay State Park on the Point Reyes Peninsula; Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, very near the underserved Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco; and Fremont Peak State Park, with its spring and summer star parties (see our article, The Fremont Peak Experience).
Legislative budget hearings will continue through the spring, and the issue will be decided when the governor signs the final budget later this summer. Emory of the State Parks Foundation suggests visiting your favorite parks soon, to boost attendance figures and remind yourself what’s at stake. Then contact your state representatives. Learn more at www.savestateparks.org.