California Parks Pin Hopes on Nonprofit Friends

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June 2, 2011; Source: Wall Street Journal | These days we expect to see stories about nonprofits waiting for white knights to ride in and save them from closure. Yet, according to this Wall Street Journal account, the fate of some 18 California parks in Northern California's Bay Area rests with several nonprofit groups that are "poised to help."

Already some groups have helped out by raising money to restore facilities and collecting donations to keep park staff employed. But to make it possible for nonprofits to play a larger role will require some assistance too from lawmakers. The state is considering a bill that the Wall Street Journal reports would allow California officials "to enter into widespread agreements with nonprofits to help run some parks." The newspaper notes that under current law, "the legislature must approve a separate bill each time a park turns over work to a nonprofit group."

The bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, says, "The Bay Area is park-rich and we are going to feel this if they close. Nonprofits can step in to keep the doors open in some of these parks." One group already at work trying to raise money on behalf the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park is Friends of Santa Cruz. Last year, 500 donors to the group contributed $60,000 to save the jobs of 30 seasonal lifeguards on duty at three state beaches.

As much as she hopes her group can prevent the Santa Cruz park from closing, Bonny Hawley, executive director, worries "that even if nonprofits bridge the gap, it will still be a challenge to keep up the state park system." Other groups, including Friends of China Camp, Angel Island Association and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, are leading efforts to keep parks they support open and also serving as a model for other groups eager to do what they can to save parks they've befriended. Commenting on the support for Angel Island State Park that she oversees, Superintendent Amy Brees says, "The nonprofits are vital, absolutely."—Bruce Trachtenberg