California Legislature Fights for State Parks

May 16, 2012

Last week, two California senators announced an eight-point proposal to keep open 50 state parks, out of the 70 that were set to close on July 1 of this year.

Sens. Joe Simitian (D) and Noreen Evans (D) outlined legislation to keep the parks open without calling for new funding. The proposal attempts to cover a $22 million gap by tapping into existing state money:

  • $10 million from the state’s motor vehicle fund, to be used for park enforcement and road repairs
  • $10 million from long-term loans from the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund, to be used to address wastewater and septic system problems
  • The rest would come from a local assistance fund, and revenue generated from the park system (e.g., concession stands, “fast-track” passes, new specialty license plates, etc.)

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown called for the closure of a quarter of California’s 277 parks in a move to combat the state’s $15 billion shortfall by reducing spending across the board.

But in a state where outdoor recreation supports 408,000 jobs and contributes $46 billion annually to the economy, the governor’s plan would fragment the outdoor recreation system, the lifeblood behind its recreation economy.

“The notion of closing 70 state parks is fundamentally ill-conceived,” said Sen. Simitian. “It is penny-wise and pound-foolish, and it absolutely does not make sense to take what may prove to be irreversible actions if we go down this path.”

The degradation of the state’s recreation system is a concern matched by the unforeseen consequences of closing down so many parks.

“We have the rather obvious challenge of asking, ‘How do you put a fence around 70 state parks in a system that has 1.4 million acres statewide?’” Simitian added. “The cost of one lawsuit from someone who has a horrific accident in a state park that was untended, or the cost of fire suppression if there’s no one on the scene, could outstrip the savings quite quickly.”

California’s state parks situation may be the country’s poster child of a public land crisis, but it is symptomatic of a trend across the nation as states consider park closures as a way to reduce spending. Outdoor Industry Association® (OIA) will continue to monitor public-lands funding at the local, state and federal levels and activate OIA membership when and where the industry has the opportunity to bolster and strengthen the national outdoor recreation system.

For more information, please contact David Weinstein, OIA’s outreach and advocacy manager.