State park closures worry Sonoma County residents

Isabel Baskerville, Copy Editor

The impending closure of 70 California State Parks ignited a burst of dedicated volunteers in Sonoma County. Groups like Stewards of the Coast, the Parks Alliance and Land Paths all seek to keep historic and beloved parks in Sonoma county open.

Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered Jan. 19 in the Bertollini Student Center to hear representatives of four different groups speak about their plans and hopes. The possibility of park closures was first discussed in 2008, when only 40 parks were on the list for closure, including Armstrong Redwoods, which is when many groups first became concerned. Proposition 21 was one plan to help keep the parks afloat. If it had passed, an $18 fee would be attached to all vehicle registrations in California, but state drivers would have free day use in the parks. Supporters gathered in Sonoma County 7,300 signatures to get Prop. 21 on the ballot.

“We all thought it was a great idea in Sonoma County but unfortunately in other areas of the state they did not,” said Michele Luna, a member of Stewards of the Coast.

AB42, passed in 2011, made it possible for non-profit organizations to enter into operating agreements with the state in hopes of keeping more parks open without requiring agreements with the private sector. A Request for Proposal (RPF) filed by private corporations grants them concession rights for the state park in question, if approved by the state. Some parks on the closure list have been “bundled,” like Austin Creek, and are deemed too small to be tempting to companies interested in an RPF.

“Closing State Parks is bad for California,” Luna said. “Over 70 million people visit our State Parks annually. Our State Parks generate over four billion in economic activity and for every dollar invested in state park system there’s a return to the state of $2.35.”

Parks Alliance was started in June in response to the closure list, according to Lauren Dixon, deputy director of Parks Alliance for Sonoma County. “What’s important for you to know in Sonoma County is that the Parks Alliance and all of our organizers, we are the ones that are pushing the state to deal with this,” Dixon said.

Sugarloaf, Austin Creek, Annadel, Sonoma Coast, Petaluma Adobe and Jack London state parks are all on the closure list, and each speaker described their organization’s plans to operate and fund the park they are involved in. Many sent in their non-profit operating agreement requests as soon as AB42 passed, but none have received a final say from the state, frustrating groups who have been working on their proposals for months.

If their proposals aren’t approved quickly, it will be far more difficult to prepare the parks in time for the operating season, according to Luna.

Stewards of the Coast is actively recruiting volunteers, and all organizations involved in keeping the parks open are eager for hands and donations.

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