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Environmental Group Opposes State Park Closure

In Los Gatos, Castle Rock State Park along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is on the chopping list.

Concerned about the impending closure of dozens of state parks, a cluster of citizens and representatives from environmental and outdoors associations had a message this morning for Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature: Closing state parks is bad for California's economy and future.

On a grassy meadow at the edge of Golden Gate Park, chosen as a backdrop because it is protected from the closures thanks to its status as a national park, representatives from Environment California—a statewide, citizen-based advocacy organization—and the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation spoke to Brown on Wednesday through news cameras.

The foundation's vice president of government affairs, Traci Verardo-Torres, said that the group hoped to call attention to the shuttering of 25 percent of California's state parks.

When the Legislature passed the most recent state budget, it included an $11 million reduction of General Fund support for state parks for the current fiscal year and a reduction twice as large beginning next fiscal year.

In response, the California Department of Parks and Recreation released a list of 70 state parks planned for closure.

In Los Gatos, Castle Rock State Park along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is on the list.

Some parks have already begun to lock their gates, and the remainder of the closures is expected to occur by July 2012.

"It's bad for all of us because we lose out on part of our heritage," Verardo-Torres said.

She stressed not only the parks' recreational and educational importance but also their economic function in the state.

The park closures will deal a heavy blow to surrounding businesses that rely on money spent by people who frequent the park, such as bed and breakfast inns, gas stations and local markets, she said.

According to a 2009 study by Sacramento State University, the State Park system pays for itself, generating more than $4 billion in park-related expenditures that return $300 million to state coffers in the form of sales tax revenue.

That study found that out-of-state visitors contributed about $122 million through such sales tax revenue, which represents roughly 80 percent of the state parks budget of $150 million.

By locking the parks for good, Verardo-Torres said, Brown and the Legislature's decision also "locks the gate to economic activity that is so vital to California's recovery right now."

The Legislature is set to vote in January on a second cut to the State Park system, although Verardo-Torres said "there are opportunities to look for funding in other places."

Eighteen of the Bay Area's state parks—including China Camp State Park, Henry W. Coe State Park, and Annadel State Park—are among those slated to close.

Of those 18, those within National Park boundaries in Marin County—Tomales Bay and Samuel P. Taylor state parks—will remain open, albeit on reduced schedules, thanks to an agreement reached earlier this year between the National Parks Service and California State Parks.

That agreement, however, is only a pilot program that will maintain operations at the parks during the proposed fiscal year 2012-13 closures.

The program's effectiveness will be reevaluated at a later date, with the possibility for its extension beyond June 30, 2013.

Other parks, especially those in the Central Valley, have not been so fortunate and it is not likely the surrounding communities will be able to support them, Verardo-Torres said.

"Even in the best-case scenario, maybe 20 parks of the 70 would be able to remain open," she said. "It's hard to see a real safety net to keep these places open."

—By Bay City News Service

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