Looming State Park Closures Threaten California Environment

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With the New Year starts the countdown for 70 of California’s 278 parks to close by July. Though the state budget is hugely in deficit, closing 25% of the states parks seems drastic. Governor Jerry Brown  signed AB42 allowing nonprofits to help with park operations last year and  recently vetoed  Republican Senator Blakeslee’s SB356 (the attempt of override Brown failed) saying the parks department could already sign contracts with local governments. The future of the parks set for closure is still uncertain.

Six months after the release of the closure list, nine of the 70 parks have found private donors and nonprofit groups to provide the money necessary to keep them open. With six months left, it is doubtful that all of the parks will be saved. To clarify, closing the parks doesn’t mean that they are to be sealed off or sold off, instead there will be no services provided to them: No bathrooms, no rangers, no trash pick-up. Many parks around California are already experiencing limited service, but completely taking away funding leaves the parks vulnerable. The current system has created a sort of Bentham’s panopticon, where even though the ranger isn’t visible, people are less likely to break rules. Some of the worries expressed may seem outlandish, like concerns of rogue pot farms, but the environmental concerns are undeniable. Though the public will be encouraged to pack in and pack out, litter could become rampant. For example, the I Love a Clean San Diego program removed 80 tons of litter from 75 coastal and inland locations; though one would hope the littering wouldn’t be as drastic in closed parks. Likewise, the number of trailblazers not sticking to the path is likely to increase and threaten endangered habitat.  No one will be there to put up signs warning against following newly foraged trails leading to degradation and increased erosion damage during rain.

The problem might just be the way in which the state handled the situation. Their methodology seems though that the state may have missed out on an opportunity to save parks instead favoring a slashing off of weaker parts. Parks and Recreation claims “92% of today’s attendance will be retained, 94% of existing revenues will be preserved, and 208 parks will remain open.” The state has been working on operating agreements with partners, but it seems too little and ill focused. It may have been more logical to find partners for the more popular parks because it would be easier to find partners. The state could have also taken a more extensive approach to looking for partners, for example the adopt a highway and adopt a beach programs have saved the state money and could  have been amend to suit state parks.

There also appears to be a loss of capturing the value of the parks and collecting profit from this value. Most parks only collect day use parking fees or camping fees, this though doesn’t account for the recreational hikers, bikers, and runners that don’t pay anything. The solution could be as simple as pay turnstiles at entrances. The idea of missing out on potential income is further supported by a PNAS study that shows the time-value amount spent in parks exceeds the cost of operation and management. The fact that the parks are not capturing this value to their benefit shows a disjunction between the way the park is run and the potential revenue.