By Oscar Duenas
State park funding is always the first item to get cut from local and state budgets in times of low funds. But that is not the direction that California should be headed. California is home to the second largest state park system in the United States, which covers 279 facilities and 1.6 million acres of land. These state park facilities are home to many historical sites and wilderness areas that attract 60-80 million visitors yearly. The Department of Parks and Recreations is in need of drastic changes to facilitate the accessibility of the California State Park system–changes that include the preservation of the state parks and the implementation of new management tools within Department of Parks and Recreations.
The Parks Forward Commission has reported that the California Department of Parks and Recreations has been mismanaged and that the system is obsolete in urban areas. This seems like a headline that would come out of Pawnee, Indiana, the non-fictional location of NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Come to think of it, Leslie Knope could do a better job of managing California’s Department of Parks and Recreation than California currently is.
The Commission hopes to transform the Department of Parks and Recreations by implementing and updating its “outdated systems, processes, tools and technologies.” This includes the ability to pay entrance fees with credit cards, instead of the cash-only rule currently in place. Another aspiration by the Commission is to increase the visitor rates by providing more overnight accommodation options.
Parks Forward also longs to make the state parks more accessible for low-income visitors by building and providing recreation facilities to urban neighborhoods across California, especially Latinos, the largest growing demographic. They want the visitors to accurately represent the California population.
The report demands for an increase in funding in order to revitalize the Department of Parks and Recreations. It says that with the “existing funding no longer guarantees the promise of the park vision to future generations.” The Commission hopes to accomplish this by creating a non-profit organization that would help secure funds and to increase the visitor rates. The organization will also help with the recruitment of volunteers and organizational programs. A two-year plan proposed by Parks Forward incorporates improvements in transportation to state parks for people who live in urban neighborhoods, creating an accessible, user-friendly website that allows visitors to plan visits and reserve cabins, etc.
Mistrust towards the Department of Parks and Recreation arose after evidence that state leaders were hiding funds in response to budget cuts surfaced in 2012. The Sacramento Bee reported that over $20 million had been hidden by state park leaders. It was at that point when the Legislature created and implemented the Parks Forward Commission, who pinpoint the “lack of creative management” from the state department as a cause of many issues that California state parks face.
The importance of state parks is often overlooked. California parks are a vital part of the local and state economies—people from all over the world enjoy traveling to California due to its diverse natural landscape, and tourism is one largest growing industries in the United States. California is able to provide what other places cannot: a long mountain range, accessible beaches, and beautiful nature. It would be a sound decision for California to heavily invest in the state parks systems to reap its later benefits while also continuing to beautify our state.
State parks also protect many important historical sites that serve for educational purposes and social culture. A few of these sites include Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento, Jack London Square in Oakland, Mount Tamalpais in Marin and the Marshall Gold Discovery point in Auburn. These sites provide educational and environmental opportunities through the Junior Ranger Program, school field trips and museums located across the state. In short, to increase accessibility to state parks equates to success for the state. There are a great deal of benefits that come from investing in California’s state parks. Park systems have been heavily supported by the federal government since the early 20th century; President Richard Nixon demonstrated his support of the park systems by expanding the public park system to San Francisco and New York, with the intention to serve urban areas and create space within large cities.
Creating an accessible state park system should be an aspiration for all Californians. But the state needs to back the Department of Parks and Recreation in order for this dream to become reality. By directly allocating funds to revamp the Department of Parks and Recreation and adequately maintain the state parks, the State of California can then create an accessible state park system for all to enjoy.