Workshops set for group interested in running state parks

02/12/2012 12:00 AM

08/21/2012 9:24 PM

Want to run a state park?

With the California Department of Parks and Recreation facing the prospect of having to cut $22 million from the coming year's budget, the agency is looking seriously at finding people and groups to take over the operation – or at least the funding – of parks slated for closure.

The agency will hold workshops in five cities – beginning in West Sacramento – over the next four weeks to teach people how they might be able to swing an operating agreement for one of the 70 parks on the chopping block.

Already, nine parks appear to have been saved through deals with federal or local agencies, nonprofits or – in one case – generous wealthy donors.

A group of Silicon Valley CEOs put up $300,000 per year to allow the state to keep Henry W. Coe State Park, near Morgan Hill, open for three years.

"That's very ideal, but the likelihood of finding those kind of donors for all the parks does not seem very high," said Roy Stearns, spokesman for California State Parks.

In Sacramento, the Historic Governor's Mansion should be preserved, at least open a few days a week, said Cathy Taylor, superintendent of the Capital District.

That's possible because the district helped develop a nonprofit group in 2009, although the original intent was to help with extras – not to pay for operating the mansion.

Similar support associations exist for many of the parks, but it's uncertain how many could actually pick up the reins or the tab for closing parks.

Costs to run one of the closed parks can range from $80,000 to more than $1 million, Stearns said.

Prospective operators with management know-how and an identified funding stream could take over running a park, Stearns said.

There are at least 14 such groups looking at park operations, said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.

"It is imperative that as many partners as possible step up to keep these places open," she said.

They wouldn't be able to run it as a private club or exploit natural resources – like opening a new mine at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, one of the threatened sites.

"We would frown on that," Stearns said. "They would soon be talking to a park ranger."

The operations plans have to be consistent with the mission of State Parks.

However, money-making concessions are already parts of some parks. Other sites will initiate such things to save parks.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve will start charging a parking fee that will raise funds to staff an interpretive center, according to officials from the Mono Lake Committee, a nonprofit that will handle that.That may be something the Parks Department could have done itself, but it has been mandated to make cuts.

Still, the workshops are something of a proactive approach – helping others take the initiative.

"They're basically a kind of technical guide program," Stearns said.

Those who attend will learn about partnership eligibility, application processes, financial plan requirements and more.

In some cases, it may be necessary to maintain ranger services for law enforcement.

State Parks is also producing a workbook for operating agreements.

Information on the workshops and on which parks are slated for closure can be found at www.parks.ca.gov.

People can also contact local parks superintendents if they have proposals for saving specific parks, Stearns said.

"It's really important to remember that none of these are permanent solutions," Goldstein said. "These are heroics that are happening, but they are short-term heroics."

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