Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Parks And You

With park closings looming on the horizon here in California and with the rest of the country trying to balance budgets and their various obligations, the question has come up time and time again, what to do about the parks?

People often think governors put parks on the auction block as a political tool since it rallies the populace to protest the cuts and makes the other proposed cuts more palatable. And that WOULD work in the past because people actually DO value parks.

Still, in California at least, there seems to be a real "who needs the parks and why do I need to pay for them?" sentiment that is brewing. It also dredges up "how can you close PUBLIC parks when they are owned by us!" arguments (of course, nothing is ever that simple).

First came the ballot measure last year during the Fall where voters in California were asked to pay an extra $18 when they registered their vehicles to pay for the California State Parks. The measure failed. Now with the California Parks Department already cut to the bone, they have to come up with another $11 million in cuts, which means park closures.

As this blog from San Diego can attest, people don't want to pay a fee for the parks when they themselves don't use parks. In these times of austerity, people have suggested that parks become self sufficient or close. Of course, closing parks doesn't stop their expenses. There are costs associated with police patrolling closed parks for trespassers and parks that close cost a bit of money to actually reopen so if times continue to remain tough, these parks might be too costly to reopen.

I generally agree that parks should try and be as self sufficient as possible. Also, if it is the difference between parks staying open or closing, then I don't mind if the people who utilize the parks pay more in fees since they are the ones using the parks multiple times (like me!).

At the end of the day though, I agree with Hillel The Elder (the Younger was a punk) breaking it down in that San Diego blog: "If I am only for myself, what am I?" The parks, in all their forms, national state, county, whatever, all serve multiple purposes to multiple people. As Ken Burns showed us (as only he can in his long drawn out, over-narrated manner) the natural environment can be awe inspiring, can give us a respite from the outdoors and can actually make us come together to argue and advocate for something without an immediate economic benefit.

Therefore, we should recognize the value of parks for all of us even if only some of us use them. I can certainly understand why not everyone here in California would want to pay $18 though so how bout this? The government should continue to subsidize parks to the extent their able. To that end, they should make sure gate fees, merchandise, food revenue, etc. stays within the park system and are managed correctly. Of course some states have it "right", filtering lots of money from other programs into parks. Further, I wouldn't mind if people had the option of paying for a yearly pass for discounted or no fees so those that use the parks on a regular basis could both contribute money to the parks as well as enjoy the direct benefits of the monetary contribution.

These are trying times but I remain hopeful there are ways to save the parks for now and for the future.


  1. I am with you - the parks are important - I was one of those that did vote for the fee. We are so lucky in this state to have the resources that we do. If we do not protect them we are making an egregious mistake.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts and I agree! I think through the California State Park Foundation you can still donate $18 but I am not sure what good that is going to immediately do for keeping parks open. I am a member of CSPF but so far no mention of any public-private partnership.


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