By Bob Difley
It’s rare when you find a government employee/bureaucrat that, when given a difficult job, comes through with creative ideas and then makes them work . (Note a rewording of this sentence in my comment below.) California may have found one in State Parks Director, Ruth Coleman (who has worked for both Democratic and Republican governors).
When Governor Jerry Brown took office, one year and four months ago, the state parks were faced with the closure of 70 of their 278 state parks by July 1st because of budget shortfalls, declining revenues, and all the other problems confronting states today. Since then she and her hard-working staff have managed to pull off what the politicians couldn’t, working out deals with a variety of partners that enabled her to remove 12 parks from the closure list. And agreements are in the works to scratch another five off the death list.
An additional 20 deals are being worked out with various organizations and businesses to work out a plan with county and regional park districts, cities, and non-profit groups to operate the parks for at least a year, giving the economy time to recover and to find new sources of funding.
Ms. Coleman has also offered incentives to park department staff to come up with creative ideas to keep the parks open, like the opening of a wine-tasting kiosk at Topanga State Park in Malibu and holding a blues festival (photo) at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. These are creative ways to not only raise needed revenue but also to add to the visitor experience without detracting from the beauty of the parks.
She had help from the recently passed Assembly Bill AB42 that allows 20 state parks to be operated entirely by a non-profit. State park officials are also trying to work out details with private concessionaires to operate another 10 parks.
Now if the legislature, parks officials, and the voting public can get it together to form a completely separate endowment to pay for park operations, then the future of the parks wouldn’t have to depend on the legislature cutting the park budget and raiding the revenues the park raises in fees and concession payments for general budget shortfalls, then maybe that would be on the right track for both saving and operating state parks. And it might be a good model for state parks around the country that are now beholden to their legislators’ largess.
Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (or for Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).