Joan Hamilton

Joan Hamilton is a Bay Area environmental writer and
editor who enjoys hiking, camping, and kayaking in
California state parks. She was formerly chief editor at High Country News, Climbing, and Sierra magazines. She produces mobile audio tours for people who want to learn more about Bay Area nature.

Lifeline from the Feds

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Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin is a popular destination for many of the millions of people who live within a short drive of this secluded redwood forest. With the park facing closure, the National Park Service stepped in to pay park operating costs.

The Parks and the People

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Some 70 state parks were scheduled to be closed on July 1, 2012. But determined action by park-loving citizens around the state has succeeded in getting some parks removed from that list and has opened a discussion of the relationship between public parks and the people they serve. We visit four parks around the state to see what the future might hold for our beloved, but beleaguered, state parks.

A streak of silver in state parks cloud

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In the first few months after California announced its park closures in May 2011, park advocates were stunned and outraged. The state was tearing down 25 percent of a world-renowned system—70 parks in all. Almost a year later, the state parks closure cloud still looms, big and black. But dozens of small victories and individual acts of courage are adding a silver lining.

Solutions for some state parks on closure list

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In its haste to eliminate $22 million from its budget, the California parks department took aim at 70 state parks, one-quarter of the system. The strategy: sacrifice a few to save the many. But as citizens got involved to keep their favorite parks from closing, some interesting scenarios have been revealed. Some parks only needed a small shot in the arm, easily given with some simple revenue-generating schemes. Cut first, think later seemed to be the way state officials proceeded in the dark hours of budget cuts.

A Little Help from Our Friends

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In spring 2011, the bad news about California’s state parks hit: 70 parks were slated for closure by July 2012, including 18 in the Bay Area. Since then, volunteers, nonprofits, and public agencies have mobilized to contain the damage. At Henry Coe State Park, donations will keep the park running with existing staff. In Sonoma, closure loomed for five parks and groups have joined forces to create new models of park operation.

A Classroom in the Woods

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The East Bay Regional Park District is not just the nation’s largest and oldest regional park district. It also has what’s likely the largest corps of professional naturalists of any local park agency. For generations of kids, that’s meant accessible opportunities for hiking, camping, getting dirty, and–most important–discovering the outdoors and getting to know our plant and animal neighbors.

Through the Eyes of the Lion

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Odds are you’ll never see a puma. But if you spend enough time outside in local open space, there’s a good chance a puma will see you. We know surprisingly little about how these secretive top predators persist alongside millions of people in the Bay Area, but they’re certainly here. And learning more will help us figure out how to better accommodate this icon of wildness in our midst.

Reaping the Harvest

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It’s easy to forget how much of the Bay Area was once a working landscape. Row crops, orchards, and pastures held sway in places now covered by freeways and houses. But a surprising amount of that working land endures in our parks and preserves. In the East Bay, ranchers still run cattle on thousands of acres of land, both public and private. And in a few places, thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District, kids and adults can learn firsthand about skills people once took for granted: how to plant a seed, plow a field, grind grain into flour, or spin wool into yarn.