Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed closing up to 220 of California’s 279 state parks, which would remain closed until there is available funding to operate them.
The problem with this idea is first, of course, the public then cannot legally use them. In addition, closed parks would mean accelerated deterioration of park facilities (trails, buildings, etc.) A closed park is an excellent hidey-hole for illegal drug activity (marijuana growing, meth lab.) Who then guards the wildlife, and prevents arson?
The California Parks Foundation is squeaking loudly about this probable eventuality, as one might expect — encouraging the public to protest mightily to the Governor.
But hang on a second, people! California is really and truly going broke. In two weeks, California will be insolvent, and the parks may be closed by court order, rather than executive fiat. This is a time to find solutions, not just voice dissent.
Here’s a suggestion: Don’t close the state parks. Instead, the state should lease them out for periods of 10 years. Preferred lessees should be city and county governments, in cooperation with local nature foundations. For example, the Santa Monica Mountains could be leased to a coalition of Los Angeles County and City, Malibu, and Santa Monica. Use and parking fees, and other concessions, would be used to partially fund the lease payments. The parks could be staffed with a combination of volunteer and city/county labor — or contracted out.
Win-win. The state government gets rid of an expense, and receives and income stream. The local economies get to keep, and perhaps enhance, the economic benefit from the state parks. As California Parks Foundation notes, “For every dollar that funds the parks, $2.35 is returned to the state’s General Fund through economic activities in the communities surrounding the parks.”