State Parks Funding Slashed

Substantial cuts require the California to close a quarter of its state parks

For the first time in California history, the state is shutting down some of its parks because of budget cuts.  

California's budget crisis has prompted lawmakers to cut funding for state parks by nearly half over the next two years, shutting down one quarter of the state's 278 natural and historic sites.

"We hope to be able to continue to protect the resources without people watching over them," said Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications for California State Parks.

Some beaches, parks and historical buildings along the California coast will begin closing Friday, but most will lock their gates in the spring of 2012.

When Gov. Jerry Brown signs the state budget, the state parks department will immediately sustain an $11 million cut in funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

That number will double the following year and become the permanent budget for the department.

The department's general fund generated from tax revenue was $175 million in 2006-07, said Stearns. In 2012-13, it will be $99 million.

Stearns said the drastic reduction in state aid will result in staff layoffs and an end to park-sponsored services, such as learning programs that teach visitors about the coastline, tide pools and iconic redwoods.

The 70 state parks and monuments on the chopping block were selected according to their popularity, revenue potential, and ecological and recreational diversity, Stearns said.

While there is no planned increase in state funding for the next two years, park officials are considering new business models to increase revenue and begin maintaining the parks again.

Options include temporary park takeovers by cities and counties, partnership with non-profit organizations and concession contracts that would allow private businesses to operate restaurants, snack bars and rental shops inside the facilities.

Welcoming the private sector into its business model on a limited basis does not mean the state will privatize its parks, Stearns said.

"This is the worst budget deficit California has ever faced in its history," he said. "There is no other choice but to cut lots of services when voters choose not to increase taxes." 

For a list of the parks being closed, click here.  

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