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Can we keep our state parks open?
By Michele Luna
Well, now we know what we face. The governor has cut an additional $6.2 million from the state parks budget, bringing the total to $14.2 million for the 2009–2010 fiscal year. That doesn't count the three furlough days that state park employees are required to take each month and the potential revenue losses with park closures. This is devastating news for our parks statewide. We can expect to see the potential closing of more than a hundred state parks after Labor Day unless local communities can attract financial sponsors to help keep them open. Seasonal and midweek closures will also be considered. The governor has put the responsibility on the people of California to keep our parks open through public-private partnerships. With the economy affecting so many people, we need our parks. Day use attendance is at record-breaking levels, and our campgrounds are full because people are using our parks more than ever. State parks provide an affordable vacation for most Californians. Where will they go to recreate with their families during these trying economic times?
Our local rural communities will suffer with the loss of tourism dollars. Russian River District State Parks attract close to 5 million visitors a year. That represents an influx of millions of dollars into our local economy. How will struggling local businesses survive? How many more small business owners will be forced to close their doors at the end of summer?It's now up to us locally to come up with a strategy to keep Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, Austin Creek State Recreation Area, Sonoma Coast State Park, Fort Ross State Historic Park and Salt Point State Park open in the Russian River District. Funding is needed to keep our facilities open, including the office of the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods and our visitor centers. Our parks need our help in order to maintain essential services like water, sewage, electricity and trash pickup, to name just a few.
Park visitors have suggested fee increases, an idea which we need to be receptive to and ready for. Many of our parks are free for walk-in visitors. We hope that locals who use our parks daily for exercise and to walk their dogs will find a way to give back either by way of a monetary donation or by volunteering their time. Fees benefit the state park system statewide. Donations to the Stewards and volunteer support for our special events, like the Bodega Seafood, Art and Wine Festival and the Old Grove Festival, will directly benefit our local state parks. Either way, it's going to take all of us contributing to keep our parks open.The more life support we can provide, the greater opportunity there will be to reduce the number of parks that will close. If you are someone who thinks you can help bring significant financial support to our parks, please contact me. We will be convening a working group of people to move us forward with this effort as soon as possible. If you are able to contribute even a modest amount, we will put your donations to good use specifically to keep our local parks open.
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Initially, we see this as a two-year project, after which we are hopeful that we can float a successful ballot measure that provides a sustainable funding source for our state park system into the future.The time is now to create a positive legacy for our grandchildren, so they will not lose the chance to visit a state park and learn about the fragile natural and cultural resources that need our stewardship into the future!
Michele Luna is the executive director of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707.869.9177, ext. 4. Visit www.oldgrovefestival.org for event information.
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