This past week I received a flurry of excited emails from Robert Hanna, the great great grandson of John Muir, who has possessed a fierce determination to keep open every state park in California slated for closure. On Friday he celebrated victory at the State Capitol in Sacramento after learning that all but one of the 70 parks on the closure list will stay open.
Up until about a week ago, less than half the parks (31) had formal agreements between the state and partner organizations. Then last week, with time running out on a July 1 closure deadline, park officials dramatically shifted their position and granted reprieves for 38 more parks after Governor Jerry Brown partially signed-off on stop-gap budget bills from lawmakers. The funding includes an extra $10 million to the state park system and $13 million in bond funds for projects to pursue cost-saving or revenue-generating enhancements to the park system.
Park advocates have now patched together short-term funding and operating solutions to help keep 69 parks from closing, at least for now. The status of the 70 parks on the initial closure list includes:
•40 State Parks have formal operating agreements with nonprofit partners, local governments or private companies that extend from one to five years.
•25 State Parks are still under negotiation (recent budget bills bought these parks more time).
•4 State Parks do not currently have viable options and may still close (recent budget bills bought these parks more time).
•1 state park — Providence Mountain State Recreation Area — is closed and its future is uncertain.
25 up in the air
Beyond the 40 formal deals, other groups continue to hammer out agreements for 25 additional parks from Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in the Sierra foothills to Hendy Woods State Park in Mendocino County.
Five Tuolumne County Rotary clubs raised funds to match a $75,000 grant from the Sonora Area Foundation to help save Railtown. Railtown 1897 and its historic locomotives and railroad cars have appeared in more than 200 films, television productions, and commercials.
Hendy Woods, another park with an interesting cultural history, preserves ancient redwoods in two peaceful groves and offers visitors camping, access to the Navarro River and intrigue to discover huts where the Hendy Woods Hermit lived a wild existence for 18 years. The newly formed Hendy Woods Community, a nonprofit, is seeking to keep the park open with the help of Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit that has raised funds to preserve ancient redwood groves in state parks for 94 years.
Without viable options
The fate of the remaining five parks — Benicia State Recreation Area, California State Mining and Mineral Museum, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, Zmudowski State Beach and Providence Mountains State Recreation Area — is much more uncertain. All but Providence Mountains, located next to the Mojave National Preserve in southern California, will continue operating “for the very near term,” Natural Resources Agency spokesman Richard Stapler told the Sacramento Bee. If those parks do not attract partners, then services like trash pickup and bathroom maintenance will end. Providence Mountains has been closed since March of this year and already vandalism has resulted in over $100,000 in damage.