Reflections on California’s State Park Crisis

My dad has a map of Annadel State Park printed on a purple bandanna. As we hike up to lake Ilsanjo, my family and I take turns checking it. When we get to the lake, we dip it into the cool water and take turns tying it around our necks. Ham and cheese sandwiches followed by M&M-heavy trail mix never tastes as good as it does after a dusty, hot hike. After lunch, we reapply sunscreen, sling our backpacks over our shoulders, and retrace our steps back down the trail. And all the while, we talk. To be fair, this isn’t some miraculous transformation at the hands of nature’s majestic power. We’re a talkative family in most settings. But something about the exercise combined with the quiet serenity of the environment, the beautiful simplicity of following a dirt path that lopes between proud pine trees and golden grass hills, draws the conversation from us like nothing else. Our topics range from theoretical philosophy to the deeply personal details of our inner lives. Distance from cell phones, television, and internet access allows the kind of sustained, uninterrupted discussion that is often impossible in even the closest of modern families.

Annadel and its fellow California state parks have been weighing on my mind because of the budget cuts that the recession has necessitated. While I understand that these tight economic times require the California government to trim state spending wherever reductions will harm the lowest number of people, most of our politicians would agree that restricted access to the breath-taking natural environments of our state is not something to be celebrated. The richness and diversity of California’s natural landscapes cultivate in its inhabitants an abiding love for their home. From Yosemite to redwood forests to deserts, from the melancholic beauty of Northern California beaches to the sunny fun of their Southern California counterparts, our state parks leave us no shortage of places to walk on a nice summer day. As of this September, 70 of California’s 278 parks will close until financial conditions improve, and rangers, lifeguards, and janitors will face layoffs. This will result in the loss of 220 jobs, according to an article on the SF Gate blog entitled “70 California State Parks Fall to Budget Ax.” The article also reports that this includes 14 state parks within an hour of San Francisco, though my beloved Annadel will live on for now. The California State Parks department decided which parks to close based on the amount of public traffic the parks usually receive and which parks held the most vital historical significance. Even closed state parks will remain protected land, but officials may be unable to prevent “transients, thugs, and hunters” from overrunning the open areas, as speculated by the aforementioned article. Reduced public access to state parks will save California $11 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and $22 million in 2012-13, which means even more cuts. This $11 million may be only a drop in the bucketfuls of state debt, but every full bucket is made up of lots of drops. But just because I understand it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Governor Brown intends to offer Californians a chance to regain some of their parks and services with a measure on next year’s ballot offering a tax to fund the parks, but his more right-wing colleagues oppose suggesting any additional tax. My thoughts? It really couldn’t hurt to ask. Let the people who use these parks decide. Maybe they want their parks open and better funded, and maybe they just really can’t afford them right now. Either way, we as Californians are in the unique position of having havens of lush natural beauty practically in our backyards. If nothing else, financial hurdles for our states parks force us to reflect on our fond park memories, our relationship with nature, and how fortunate we are to live in a state so ample in outdoor opportunity.

—Caroline Osborn, Sales and Marketing Intern