Far from Hollywood, quieter, less well known areas of California feature some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States.
One such place is Castle Crags State Park, at the southern bastion of the Klamath Mountains. Castle Crags features a captivating 6,000-foot wall of glacier-burnished granite. Surrounding the rock protrusions are a mixed conifer forest, creeks, lakes, and meadows. More adventurous visitors can hike to the Pacific Crest Trail and enter the federal Castle Crags Wilderness.
Castle Crags State Park is scheduled for closure. So are 69 other parks in the state's 278-unit state park system. Among them are Morro Strand State Beach, Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park, Salton Sea State Recreation Area, and Jack London State Historic Park. Beach, forest, desert, history - parks that offer the panoply of California heritage but don't have high visitation numbers are headed for the block. Money is tight.
State parks are unsung heroes of conservation and stewardship. They don't have the high profile of national parks, but every year they draw more than 700 million visitors. Many are local people dropping by for a day trip into some green space to escape daily humdrum and stress. State parks are an affordable alternative for families lacking the means to make cross-country trips visiting crown jewel national parks. State park visits contribute more than $20 billion to local economies.
When money is tight, however, governors and legislatures, regardless of party, find parks an easy target for the chop, even though parks' share of state budgets amounts to a teaspoon in a hurricane.
California is the biggest example of state parks under the gun, but it is not alone. In New York last year, a broad citizen outcry headed off a plan to close 55 of 213 state parks and historic sites for the 2010 summer season, from remote Long Point State Park on Lake Ontario's Chaumont Bay to Bayswater Point State Park in the thick of Queens' urban bustle. Never before, not even during the Great Depression, had New York come so close to shuttering state parks. Similar budget threats have menaced Pennsylvania's state parks, which have lost half their state general support funding since 2008. Still, all 117 of Pennsylvania's parks remain open.
Not in Arizona. In 2010, the Legislature swept money out of state park funds and blew a hole in the parks' budget. Faced with a threat to close 13 of 29 parks, state park officials scrambled to negotiate deals with local governments and citizens support groups to supply enough funding to keep 25 of 29 parks fully open. Six Arizona parks are closed one or more days per week, and two have seasonal closures.
The dedication of volunteers and willingness of local communities to step up is heartening. Budgets can be supplemented by increasing user charges and wringing more money out of concession contracts. Ohio is even thinking about letting shale gas producers into state park lands, which opens up a suite of troubling questions.
Parks are not businesses, however. Fees, royalties, and volunteer labors of love are not adequate for supporting a natural commons, a heritage that benefits all, should be supported by all, and should be open to all to enjoy.
Responsible stewardship demands no less.
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