February 12, 2011; Source: Contra Costa Times |  The folks running the California State Park Foundation and the Save-the-Redwoods League have taken as their mantra “the best defense is a strong offense.”  With a looming $25 billion gap in the state’s operating budget, it’s likely that California’s parks and beaches could be affected, and some closed.  Rather than sit idly by and watch the state’s park system take too many hits, the two nonprofit parks advocates are stepping up efforts to make parks more attractive to people, who in turn they hope will take greater efforts to support them. 

The groups’ vision is contained in a report issued late last week that outlines ways to boost the appeal of the parks and also find new funding. Says Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein: “It’s taken more than a century to build this system, and if nothing happens, this system will . . . be dismantled over time.” The groups’ report follows a failed ballot measure last November that sought to raise about $500 million for parks by increasing vehicle licensing fees by $18 a year.  

To make up any state cuts, the report urges ways to find more charitable and nonprofit support for parks along with additional fee revenues, such as from concessions and other business opportunities.  Advocates, though, recognize that, long-term, people need to be made to see the value of the state’s parks.  And to achieve that, the report recommends creating more hands-on activities for visitors and creating new opportunities for camping in some parks. 

Save-the-Redwoods League Executive Director Ruskin Hartley also noted that surveys conducted about how people regard the parks and what they’d like to see in the future suggest funding plans not be overly reliant on new business opportunities.  Visitors to the state’s parks say they like open and commercial-free spaces best.—Bruce Trachtenberg