Are Nonprofits the Answer to Financial Woes in a State Parks Department?

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October 4, 2011; Source: SonomaNews.com  |  Nonprofits have shouldered some of the work of government for quite a while, increasingly so since the recession has forced so many states to deal with multi-billion dollar budget deficits. A $22 million, two-year reduction in the budget of the California Department of Parks and Recreation passed by the legislature this past spring led Parks and Rec to announce plans to close 70 of 278 parks across the state. Facing their own budget crunches, cities and counties in the Golden State have not been willing to step in to keep the parks open.

This coming Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown will decide whether to allow nonprofits to run some state parks that were slated to close. A bill allowing for such partnerships, AB 42, was introduced by Assembly Member Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) at the end of last year. As NPQ reported, it was passed by the California State Senate in early Sepetember.

According to Elisa Stancil, Vice President of the board of Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, the organization has no experience in running public parks. But she and her colleagues are working just about full-time to create a “winning plan” to keep local parks open. The Association’s concept for Jack London State Historic Park aims to make the park financially viable within three years by generating income from renting out the park for entertainment and other paid events such as weddings and photo shoots.

The question of whether nonprofits can save parks from closing has been raised quite a bit lately both in California, and as NPQ reported, in neighboring Arizona. We’ll be curious to see if nonprofits can do a better job than government at preserving some of these precious places for California residents and visitors.—Kristin Barrali

  • Christine Sculati

    Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 42 yesterday (Oct. 4) opening up opportunities for the state to enter into operating agreements with nonprofits. While 70 parks are on the closure list, AB 42 will only allow these agreements with up to 20 nonprofits. Many nonprofits that would be likely candidates (like the one in Sonoma Valley) are currently all volunteer and would need funds to build the capacity needed to lead, run and fundraise for parks.