CA state parks to stay open – for now

A last-minute breath of fresh air breezed through California’s state parks today as Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will keep 65 of the 70 parks scheduled to close this Sunday open for the time being.

The state had threatened to close nearly a quarter of its parks in an effort to shred $22 million from the system’s budget. The bill and several agreements expected to follow will keep the parks open while transferring operating costs to private and public partners.

The bill will allocate new funds for the troubled parks system, which will be aided by deals with nonprofits, local governments and others regarding 40 of the parks. But the bill’s money will also buy time to keep 25 other state parks open while other agreements aimed at keeping them open are finalized, the California Department of Parks and Recreation announced.

Five state parks are still slated to close this Sunday, as planned: Benicia State Recreation Area, the California Mining and Mineral Museum, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, Providence Mountains State Recreation Area and Zmudowski State Beach.

Some of these sites, like Gray Whale Cove in San Mateo County, will remain accessible even though they’re officially closed. Services such as trash collection will stop next week.

Ruth Coleman, director of the state parks system, said the financial crisis has hit parks particularly hard, but she’s impressed with the passionate people and organizations who have come forward to support the parks:

“We have re-energized the people who love parks, and they are stepping up and contributing to parks in all sorts of ways.”

The new budget also gives the parks department $13 million in bond funds to be used for things like fee machines that take credit and debit cards, and other initiatives aimed at increasing revenue.

John Laird, California’s secretary for natural resources, said he’s grateful for the Legislature’s help:

“It will give us a path to keep most, if not all, of the parks open.”