State Parks officials today signed an agreement to use matching funds to ensure Henry Coe State Park near Gilroy will stay open for two years.
The agreement is the first signed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation under the terms of AB 1478. The new state law, adopted in September in the wake of a scandal in the department, allocates $10 million for matching grants to keep state parks open. The money comes from the $54 million in surplus funds that former parks headquarters officials were found in July to have hidden for years, even as state budget cuts led to park closures.
Henry Coe, at more than 87,000 acres of mountain peaks and oak-studded wilderness, is the largest state park in Northern California and the second-largest in the state.
State parks signed the agreement with the Coe Park Preservation Fund, a local group that donated $279,000, enough to keep the park open for one year. The group turned that money over to the department earlier this year. Then, when scandal enveloped the department, some of the group's board members said they wanted the money refunded.
Now, state parks will match the $279,000 donation from the surplus funds to ensure the park stays open through 2014. In the agreement, the department also commits to find additional money to keep the park open through 2016.
"This is a very big deal in my mind," said Anthony L. Jackson, the new state parks director appointed in November. "People who love the parks are giving us, in new management, an opportunity to win their trust."
Preservation fund officials said that, before the park scandal emerged earlier this year, they had donor commitments to provide $1 million to assist the park. Most of the promised donations evaporated, however, when it was revealed that the parks department had hidden away so much revenue.
The funding agreement ensures that state parks employees will remain on the job to keep Henry Coe open for the public.
"The park's long-term future is not being addressed here," said Ron Fischler, a board member of the fund. "But at least for the near term, we feel confident the park will be protected."