The state parks in the Capital District don't have beaches or redwood groves. But they are unique in California.
All are museums or historic parks. All play a big part in the Sacramento region's quality of life and economic prosperity.
We have seven state parks in the heart of downtown and midtown. The district also includes the Woodland Opera House in Yolo County and Railtown 1897 in Tuolumne County.
In the last five years, those state parks have become better, despite the harsh economic times and tight state budgets and have ambitious plans for the future.
Some of that surely has been due to the leadership and persistence of Cathy Taylor, the district superintendent since 2007. She is moving up from the Big Four Building in Old Sacramento to the 9th floor of state park headquarters, with a view of the state Capitol, to serve as chief of archaeology, history and museums for the entire state parks system overseeing the 3,000 historic structures and 11,000 archaeological sites that tell the story of California.
This is a good time for Sacramentans to reassess their state parks and markers of success.
For 22 years, Taylor has been an advocate for Sacramento's historic resources and state parks. Before she was district superintendent, Taylor was a volunteer, nonprofit foundation director and director at the California State Railroad Museum.
A graduate of the Museum Management Institute at UC Berkeley and presented with the prestigious California Preservation Foundation President's Award just days after her promotion, she is an example of a changing breed of state park superintendents who can rise through the ranks without being park rangers, as in the National Park Service.
Taylor's rise reinforces the point that state parks are in the business of tourism, not just law enforcement, and that there is a place for museum professionals.
Her work in Sacramento's seven state parks has been all about running attractions to maximize visitation and revenue generation to allow the district to preserve historic properties as well as offer new exhibits, despite state budget woes.
Significantly, Taylor has been instrumental in bringing diverse voices to the railroad museum getting beyond the "Big Four" focus to highlight the contributions of the people who ran the trains, built the locomotives and repaired the track from Chinese immigrants to workers in the historic Central Shops.
And that, of course, has included exhibits on women: "A Far Cry From Hairpins: Women, Work and Railroads" and "Must Women Wear Trousers: Women's Struggle in the Railroad Workplace 1900-1980."
As executive director for 12 years, she helped bring the California State Railroad Museum Foundation from a $70,000-a-year fledgling nonprofit to a $2.5 million organization by the time she left in 2002. Now that foundation is preparing for a next-stage $40 million capital campaign for a new Rail Technology Museum in the historic Central Shops.
The Governor's Mansion has gotten a new lease on life after being threatened with closure. Seeking myriad sources of funds, the house is being restored and opened for events and meetings, and the neighboring "Packard Building" (a Packard car dealership built in 1933) has been acquired for a museum telling the story of California's governors and their families. A new foundation partnership launched in 2009 has gone from $3,000 to more than $30,000 a year in store sales and is developing a membership program. The family of former Gov. Earl Warren is heavily involved.
Sutter's Fort has gotten some much-needed repairs and, finally, a new film to better tell its story. Under Taylor's leadership, the tiny 4,000-square-foot California State Indian Museum, at Sutter's Fort since 1940, finally has a site for an Indian heritage center worthy of the state. With partnerships in West Sacramento and private fundraising from the California Indian Heritage Center Foundation, a new museum will rise across from the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.
Under Taylor's watch, the Capital District has built up an enviable system of 800 volunteers.
As she moves to headquarters, we in the Capital District should make it known to Gov. Jerry Brown and Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird that these state parks are important to us and we want a district superintendent who can bring the region's unique museum and historic parks to the next level.
We need someone who can get beyond inertia and California's chronic budget troubles to creatively tap dollars beyond the state general fund to make attractions sustainable and add new ones for the population of the future.
We need someone who can bring on high-quality curators, exhibit preparers, interpreters, guides and others to bring our amazing history, prehistory and cultural diversity to life in an engaging, interactive way. That means getting beyond static collections of artifacts to cutting-edge displays that draw people in and bring them back for more.
We need a district superintendent who embraces California's history in all its guises and is willing to confront the complexities of our past, for example in the way the National Park Service displays the human spirit without sugarcoating controversy at the Manzanar National Historic Site that tells the story of Japanese American internment during World War II.
Taylor will have a role in showcasing California's rich history at the state level. But we need a high-quality district superintendent, too, for new-era museums and state historic parks in the Capital District.