Thursday, May 28, 2009

What Does It Mean to "Close" a Park?

The great State of California, due to its budget problems, may have to cut funding to its park system and close 80% of them. For the Bay Area, this includes Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tamalpais, Henry Coe, Portola Redwoods, and a bunch of beaches.

I'm told by the politically savvy that sometimes in times of budget crisis, public officials make moves as if to cut beloved programs, but in reality they're deliberately trying to provoke an outcry - either to mobilize the electorate to protect said programs (so public officials are then able to say "it's not my pet project, the public made me do it") or to free up funding, as in one recent case.

Given the deep hole California is now in, I have trouble believing that's what's going on, and that we're not seeing an earnest attempt to cut park funding.

My question is. What does it mean to close a park? In the case of state beaches, is the broke state going to put a fence up to keep people out? Or will the local cities now patrol them and cite people for trespassing? Wouldn't a "use at your own risk" policy make more sense?

About two years ago I spoke to someone at Henry Coe State Park and asked what would happen if Coe were closed (as was then being threatened). Coe is huge. What the staff member told me: "We currently have two paid staff members. If the park is closed, the state still has to patrol the land. Patrolling the land would require two paid staff members. Plus a closed park doesn't generate any revenue to offset costs. So closing it would actually be more expensive than leaving it open."

Not every park is as big as Henry Coe, but certainly the same arguments apply to many parks - plus, how do you keep somebody out of large, remote, un-fence-offable chunks of land?

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