California State Parks prepares for closures under Gov. Brown’s proposed budget cuts | SierraSun.com

California State Parks prepares for closures under Gov. Brown’s proposed budget cuts

Dylan Silver
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Courtesy photoLakeside students ski the Olympic Trail to Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park Jan. 13 during the Olympic Heritage Celebration.
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LAKE TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; Gov. Jerry Brownand#8217;s proposed budget provides few options for California State Parks, a state official said as a list of park closures is pending release on an and#8220;open-endedand#8221; date.

and#8220;Weand#8217;ve worked hard to bring efficiencies to the system,and#8221; said Roy Stearns, state parks spokesman. and#8220;Weand#8217;ve reorganized three times since the 1990s. After nearly two decades of ups and downs in the park system, all those efficiencies are gone. Thereand#8217;s really no options left, but closures.and#8221;

The Department of Parks and Recreation that oversees the state parks system is facing $11 million in cuts to its 2011-12 budget, and that number could grow to as much as $22 million in ongoing reductions.

The number of parks that will close cannot be released, Stearns said, but no district should expect all parks in its area to be shuttered.

California State Parks is examining every single one of the 278 state parks by attendance, revenue and and#8220;their mission,and#8221; Stearns said. Not all parks of one type will close regardless of attendance and revenue, he said.

For example, California has several parks that teach about the history of gold mining. Though these parks are low attendance and low revenue, they play an important role and should not all be closed, Stearns said.

The proposal for closures comes on the heels of a California State Parks Foundation publication titled, and#8220;A Vision for Excellence for Californiaand#8217;s State Parks,and#8221; which aims to reinforce the importance of the state parks system.

The document emphasizes five main goals for the parks system: make parks relevant, increase access, defend park lands and resources, broaden leadership for parks, and strengthen and diversify funding.

and#8220;This system is already operating with insufficient resources, and extracting what will eventually be an ongoing $22 million cut, will exacerbate the challenges facing state parks,and#8221; said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, in a statement.

To offset budget cuts, the parks system is looking to partner with cities, counties and nonprofits.

and#8220;When we finally have the list done, we will invite all those entities to ask, and#8216;Can we help?and#8217;and#8221; Stearns said.

The parks system is avoiding buying new equipment when possible and trying to grow its volunteer base of 20,000, he said.

California State Parks has received suggestions to staff solely on a volunteer-basis, but it would not be feasible, Stearns said.

and#8220;Itand#8217;s unrealistic to think that a volunteer force can take over a system as large as the state parks,and#8221; Stearns said.

The parks system is trying to avoid layoffs of any of its 2,500 staff, Stearns said. Rather, the department isnand#8217;t filling open positions, he added.

The High Sierra district, which encompasses Lake Tahoe, has 15 state parks. In 2008-09, the most recent data available, the district received more than 1.4 million visitors and cost nearly $9 million to operate.

Of the 15, the state parks treasured most by Truckee/Tahoe residents and tourists include Donner Memorial (Truckee), Ed Zand#8217;berg Sugar Pine Point (Tahoma), D.L. Bliss (South Lake Tahoe) and Emerald Bay (South Lake Tahoe).

In 2010, voters shot down Proposition 21 that wouldand#8217;ve instituted an $18 vehicle fee to raise more than $500 million for state parks.

In 2008, a $13 million cut to the Department of Parks and Recreation budget caused 48 parks across California to be closed.