Another View: California’s state parks must be transformed

The East Bay is visible last month from a hiking trail at Mount Diablo State Park in Clayton.
The East Bay is visible last month from a hiking trail at Mount Diablo State Park in Clayton.

For 150 years, California’s state parks have offered a world-class opportunity to experience our state’s natural beauty and rich heritage. While we agree with William Dillinger that our state parks system has not aged well (“Transformation plan threatens soul of state parks,” Viewpoints, May 14), we believe it will require modernization to remain relevant.

That’s why, in February, the independent Parks Forward Commission appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown issued a hard-hitting report. Mapping out a broad vision with detailed recommendations, the blueprint calls for a focused parks system that protects the state’s iconic landscapes, natural resources and cultural heritage; that remains accessible to all Californians and engages younger generations; and that promotes healthy, active lifestyles.

That’s a tall task. But the State Parks Transformation Team has been given a long leash to implement the Parks Forward plan over the next two years.

During the past five months, the team has been revamping the parks department’s organizational structure and updating its outdated systems, tools and technology. It has made state personnel rules more inclusive, providing leadership pathways to the most qualified employees, not just those with law enforcement credentials.

Most importantly, the team is focusing on a stable funding structure, including the creation of a nonprofit fundraising organization and a dedicated source of public funding.

In addition to increasing revenue, attracting more park visitors will build a stronger and more diverse coalition of park users who are ready to support and work in parks. By 2050, more than 75 percent of Californians will live in cities. Generally, low-income, minority urban areas are park-poor, while park-rich areas are located far from population centers.

The easy way out of trying to fix our parks would be simply to call for more state funding.

But that’s unrealistic and does nothing to remedy the challenging problems that we currently face.

Our state parks need an overhaul. That’s why the Parks Forward Commission and the California State Parks are working to ensure that our parks continue to be one of our state’s finest assets.

Stephen Lockhart, chief medical officer for Sutter Health, serves on the Parks Forward Commission and the National Park Service’s Second Century Commission.