We saved the parks - now what?

Even as the myriad nonprofits, “Friends of” and surviving park rangers and administrators wrestle with the long-term issues involved in keeping the gates open at California’s long list of endangered state parks, we the public users of these facilities need to adjust our expectations. Because even before the revelations of the past weekend surfaced, the seams were visibly starting to unravel.

A recent weekend visit to Armstrong Grove (which was not one of the parks on the governor’s hit list) found the park bustling with visitors, but revealed a dispiriting series of cutbacks.

• A popular group picnic area was closed, its access bridge missing the railing on one side.

• The only urinal at one men’s room was wrapped in plastic, awaiting repairs.

• Trash and recycling bins quickly filled to overflowing.

• Notices were posted in all the restrooms, explaining that “California’s state parks are experiencing budget cuts and will no longer be able to supply paper towels.”

• Access roads and trails to the Austin Creek Recreation area were posted with warnings that the campground there was closed.

None of this is enough to spoil the experience of walking beneath the soaring canopy of the ancient and magnificent trees. But it does tarnish the awe and reverence that this natural cathedral evokes.

And it underscores the obvious: that auctions, bake sales, benefit barbecues and concerts, no matter how well-intentioned and enthusiastically supported, simply cannot back fill the gaping budgetary crater into which our beloved parks are slowly disappearing. And an unreported $53 million tucked away in a misguided bureaucrat’s rainy-day fund won’t—can’t—change that.

What it will change is the overamped political rhetoric around the November ballot measures that seek to boost income for vital public service needs across the state, parks among them. The acolytes of Grover Norquist adhere to his call to “starve the beast” of government. Another beast, California’s Golden Bear, is the symbol for out parks. Look carefully and you can see the bony ribs poking through its tattered fur.

It’s not a pretty sight.

Bruce Robinson is news director at KRCB.Open Mic is a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].