The following column was written by Tom Stienstra, outdoor writer for The San Francisco Chronicle.
The new state parks director will discover some troubling realities as he tries to bail out a leaky ship.
Gov. Jerry Brown appointed retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson to plug those leaks. In a scandal uncovered this year, a mid-level administrator hid $54 million in two special funds at the same time state park administrators threatened to close 70 parks because of lack of money.
When Jackson was sworn in a week ago as parks chief, Gov. Brown told him that his No. 1 mission was to restore integrity to state parks.
He might find other problems equally daunting:
- Budget hole: The amount of money from the state’s general fund for parks has been reduced from 91% of the State Parks’ budget, to29%. That type of cut makes it impossible for the parks to run the way rangers and the public have come to expect.
- Cost to public: In 10 years, the price to camp in a tent has gone from $12 to $35 per night. Many perceive $35 as a gouge job, when it costs $20 per night at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park and many forest service campsites cost less. In the same time span, entrance fees have gone from $2 to $10, when access to many nearby regional parks is free and county parks rarely top $5.
- Ranger image: Although sometimes it’s necessary, a lot of rangers project a cop image rather than that of the helpful naturalist.
- Public interest ignored: It’s a disgrace that the local district closed all 52 backpack campsites in the Santa Cruz Mountains for six months, November through April. And at Lake Tahoe last summer, boat-in campsites at Emerald Bay weren’t opened until July 1, even though conditions were great in May and June, and all other campgrounds at Tahoe were long open.
- Public partnerships: In light of the budget scandal, high prices and crying wolf over closures, can you imagine anybody organizing a fundraiser event for state parks, or a wealthy donor writing a big check?