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Roy Stearns, the Deputy Director of the California State Parks, talked to BATW members about the California State Park system at the BATW meeting at Cavallo Point on Jan. 16, 2010. After quizzing the group about the number of state parks California has (278 covering about 1.5 million acres), he launched into facts and stories about the parks, including: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, Great Valley Grasslands State Park, Columbia State Historic Park, Angel Island State Park, Año Nuevo State Park, Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, Asilomar State Beach, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Bodie State Historic Park, Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, Doheny State Beach, and Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park.
However, before Roy could get to the other 265, BATW members hit him with the serious question: Will California State Parks be closed? He said, “No,” to which the group breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Disneyland has 25 million visitors per year. All the private theme parks, etc., in the state (including Knott’s Berry Farm, etc.) have 50 million. California State Parks have 76.8 million visitors a year.
Roy said the parks have $1.2 billion in deferred maintenance to do — this has been building up since the 1980s.
One proposal to fund the parks had been to close all parks that were not self-sustaining, but he said the only ones that do pay for themselves are the large coastal beach parks from Santa Cruz south. Those can be full year-round.
Another proposal was to triple the park fees, but when that was done in the past, it reduced the number of visitors so there was no net gain in income — and many citizens were priced out of enjoying the state’s parks.
Another controversial plan proposed by the governor is to stop government funding of the parks altogether and instead to use revenues from a new oil-drilling platform (named “Irene”) off the Santa Barbara coast to fund the parks.
Roy said the California State Parks Foundation, which opposes the oil-drilling scheme, is circulating petitions to get a proposition on the ballot that would increase vehicle registration fees by $18 to support the parks. Bonus: drivers would then get free access to the state parks.
He said that Sacramento State University recently did a 3-4-year study of state-park visitorship that showed that visitors spend about $4 billion in businesses near state parks, which makes a strong argument for keeping parks open.
Twenty-thousand people volunteer every day in state parks as campground hosts and docents and many other positions. Roy said that it is volunteers who literally keep the trains running in the railroad museums.
Roy was very supportive of creating an East Shore State Park on the east side of San Francisco Bay near Emeryville. He told a story of Clint Eastwood walking there and reminiscing about how he had played in that area as a child.
Roy noted that the state hires 600 lifeguards in the summer, making that the largest lifeguard force in the world.
He also called members attention to the October, 2009, National Geographic magazine with its lead story about California’s redwoods. He said the tallest known redwood tree now is 379.6 feet high, but historians think some that were cut down were 400-440 feet tall.
While some aspects of his talk were disturbing (the amount of deferred maintenance needed and the “Irene” oil platform off Santa Barbara), Roy did seem confident that the California State Parks will stay open, and the California State Parks Foundation does have an intriguing plan.
— April Orcutt
BATW Website Editor