NPS will keep state parks afloat

10/13/2011

The National Park Service signed financial and operational agreements last week with California State Parks (CSP) that will keep Samuel P. Taylor and Tomales Bay state parks open, on reduced schedules, for at least a year past their planned 2012 closure date, with an option to extend the pilot program into the future. Both parks were on a list of 70 slated for a July 1, 2012 shutdown due to Governor Jerry Brown’s massive budget cuts.

“We’re ecstatic,” said CSP Marin District Superintendent Danita Rodriguez. “When the NPS came in and rendered assistance to us, that was a fantastic start to keeping the parks open.”

Under the agreements, federal employees from Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) will collect the regular fee at Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park. In turn, the state will direct the revenue toward NPS’s operating costs. In addition, PRNS staff will also provide security and assist with maintenance once state funds run dry in July. The arrangement will likely help the park stay open four days a week.

Tomales Bay State Park, which is located within the boundaries of PRNS, has cooperated with the NPS before on maintenance projects but this will be the first time federal officials assume operational management of the park.

“The whole reason we’re doing this is we have shared resources and the resources don’t know the boundary differences. Neither do the visitors. This will help both the resources and the general public,” said PRNS spokesman John Dell’Osso.  

According to Dell’Osso, if NPS had not stepped in, Tomales Bay State Park would have been subject to potential vandalism and unsupervised visitors and its wildlife populations would have been left without proper management.

Starting in January, Samuel P. Taylor State Park, which is within the boundaries of Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), will receive financial help from a new $2 fee collected at Muir Woods that will be deposited into a special account called the Redwood Creek Watershed Collaboration Fund. In addition to funding improvements in the Redwood Creek Watershed, which runs from Mt. Tamalpais to Muir Beach, the money will allow the Samuel P. Taylor to remain open at least five days a week.

GGNRA spokesperson Howard Levitt said that the agreements not only benefit the state parks and their operations but also prevent “use” problems for the federal parks: visitors turned away from state parks could potentially flood national parks, placing undue strain on federal staff and land. Levitt said that although these were not the most ideal circumstances, he was proud of the final outcome. “It’s a shame [the parks were set to close],” he said. “But since they were, it feels like we’re doing our due diligence as managers of public park lands.”

As a co-chair of the Open Parks Coalition, a group dedicated to keeping the four threatened Marin parks (including China Camp State Park and Olompali State Historic Park) open, Dr. Thomas Peters said the most ideal scenario would be to keep the land under the management of state or federal park officials.  “Quite candidly, my first goal is if there’s a way to structure a rescue, not unlike last week, that’s our first priority and first preference,” Peters said. “The parks people are the people with the mission, legacy and skill to preserve these parks. I know enough about the inside workings of government to know that it was no small task for them to get the Washington-Sacramento cooperation that underpins this agreement.”

However, if the current agreement is not tenable in the long-term, Peters said he is prepared to explore other alternatives. The coalition has been recruiting private donors, and co-chair and California Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) recently had a bill passed that will allow qualified nonprofits to assume operational management of parks on the closure list.

Peters said his coalition would look at all the available options to prevent the parks from closing. “These are big swaths of land,” he said. “You can’t just draw a chain across the front gate and put a padlock on it. I am determined to keep that picture off your front page.”