Just over a year ago, when it looked like the state parks system was crumbling and dozens of parks were facing closure, I remember wishing that there was more time.
I wanted more time to understand what went wrong, more time to learn about what needed to improve, and more time to think about ways to make the state parks system better than ever.
Since then, legislators have passed helpful budgets and laws, a new executive staff has been put in place at the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and scandals about bad money management have been mostly resolved. So, at last, there's some time to be thoughtful about the parks system.
There's also a venue for sharing good ideas.
As a result of two pieces of legislation, and one memorandum of understanding involving several prominent foundations, the state Natural Resources Agency recently began a public planning effort. Called Parks Forward the effort is designed to look at the park system as it is today, envision what it could become, and establish what it will take to get there.
The planning is led by a 12-member commission co-chaired by businessman Lance Conn and former State Senator Christine Kehoe. When I recently reviewed the list of commission members, my immediate impression was that there are a lot of smart people and no shrinking violets on the commission. This is going to be interesting.
Every so often, if done right, a state task force or commission can establish an exciting, ambitious path that everyone embraces and follows for decades. This commission has the potential to do that for the parks.
But it won't be much without substantial public participation. Apparently the commission gets this. It had laid out a schedule of public workshops around the state to listen to Californians share their views about the state parks, what they are and how to make them better.
Three public sessions have been held so far, and at least seven more are scheduled. You can find a list of the upcoming workshops by clicking here.
Sierra Club California staff and volunteers have advocated throughout the recent parks crisis for a number of key notions: State parks must remain open. In raising revenues for the parks, the system must not price any Californians out of enjoying the parks. Natural resources must be professionally and effectively managed for the ecosystem. Deferred maintenance must be addressed--and deferred no more. There must be a stable stream of funding to make sure we never again face the threat of closing a quarter of our 280 state parks.
These are all good and important notions. But they don't help the commission understand that every park is different. No two parks are alike, and each one needs to be managed in a way that preserves its unique, desirable characteristics.
That's where you come in. You know the state parks in your region. You know what you like and don't like about how they are managed. This is your chance to share your thoughts. The commission needs to hear from you.
Someone asked me recently if I thought the Parks Forward initiative is a sincere effort or just another process that won't result in much. Now, I am a bit of a cynic about public processes. I've sat through enough state-led public forums to know some are designed for appearance rather than for real information gathering.
This effort seems different to me. This one looks and feels like a real opportunity for all of us to help create a plan that will make the park system better. Maybe even great.
So try to attend one of the workshops and let the commission know what you think. It will make a difference.
Kathryn Phillips, Director
Sierra Club California
Sierra Club California is the Sacramento-based legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the 13 California chapters of the Sierra Club.