Budget shortfalls are expected to result in the closure of up to 70 of the 278 California state parks, but thanks to help from the National Park Service, three of those sites will get at least a one-year reprieve. Projects in a fourth state site will also receive some additional NPS support.
The agreement between the California State Parks (CSP) and the National Park Service (NPS) was announced last week, and will run on a trial basis for a year. If it proves successful, it can be renewed with the concurrence of both agencies.
Given the tight budgets for the NPS, the idea of taking on additional responsibilities on state lands may raise eyebrows in some quarters, but park officials say there are plenty of good reasons to give the plan a try.
A statement from the NPS Pacific West Regional Office notes, "The key to this arrangement is that the three state parks are within the legislative boundaries of National Parks where joint federal/state agreements have existed for years for the sharing of staffing, resource protection and park operations. Closure of any state park within National Park Service’s boundaries would likely have negative impacts on national park resources and visitor experiences, as well as negative impacts on the local economies."
The California State Parks included in the new agreement are Tomales Bay State Park, located within both Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Samuel P. Taylor State Park, located within Golden Gate National Recreation Area; and, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, located within Redwood National and State Parks near Crescent City.
So, what's included in the deal? It's not a blank check bailout, and there are several caveats.
"The NPS will support normal day-to-day operations needed to keep the parks open. However, no additional federal funding will be available and no major or long-term infrastructure repairs will be accomplished," the NPS spokesperson noted. "Operations managed by the NPS for California State Parks will be dependent upon existing NPS funds along with the regular State Park fees collected at the respective parks."
That last point dealing with fees is an important one. This new agreement is similar to one in 2009 under which the National Park Service helped operate 12 parks located within National Park boundaries—but there important differences in the latest deal. This plan targets parks on the state's closure list, and most important, the NPS will be able to use the fees collected from the respective state parks to offset their costs.
"The closure of the state parks that are within our national park areas could create use pressures and unacceptable threats to our park resources," said Frank Dean, General Superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Muir Woods. "This agreement will provide for greater preservation and enhanced visitor experiences in these magnificent Marin park lands. As park managers, we owe this to current and future generations," he added.
Here are some additional details on the plan, which also involves some support for a fourth site, Mt. Tamalpais State Park.
Tomales Bay State Park - Point Reyes National Seashore Collaboration.
Beginning July 1, 2012, Point Reyes National Seashore will assume visitor and resource protection and routine maintenance operations at Tomales Bay State Park. Through this agreement, the NPS will preserve the existing State Park maintenance position and will provide additional maintenance support with existing NPS staff. The NPS will collect the regular State Park visitor use fees for the park on behalf of the State; the State will provide those funds back to the NPS to help offset the cost of operating the state park on a reduced schedule.
"Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay State Park share geography, history, ecosystem and visitors. We are committed to working with our State Park colleagues and the community to keep this vital community resource open," said Cicely Muldoon, Superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Mt. Tamalpais State Park/Samuel P. Taylor State Park - Golden Gate National Recreation Area Collaboration.
The agreement between Golden Gate National Recreation Area and California State Parks calls for extended cooperative management in the operation of Mt. Tamalpais State Park and Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
Beginning January 1, 2012, the NPS will collect a $2.00 State Park day use fee at Muir Woods, with the funds going to a special account, the Redwood Creek Watershed Collaboration Fund. This fund will be used to support operations at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and will enable the state to continue operation of Samuel P. Taylor State Park at least 5 days per week, and also complete projects to enhance park visitor experiences and protect resources in the watershed of Redwood Creek. Annually, the state and national park partners will select the projects to be supported by the Watershed Collaboration Fund.
Officials note that Redwood Creek originates in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, flows through Muir Woods National Monument, and reaches the Pacific Ocean at Muir Beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
"Muir Woods, Golden Gate, and Mt Tamalpais State Park are inextricably linked in the complex watershed of Redwood Creek," Frank Dean remarked. "To reach Muir Woods, visitors have to pass through Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and users of a significant number of trails in Mt. Tamalpais State Park start their hike in Muir Woods."
Farther up the coast, similar help will be provided to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. (DNCRSP). Under the plan, the NPS will provide operational support including fee collection, maintenance, law enforcement, and interpretive services for operating and maintaining the Mill Creek Campground, Wilson Beach, Damnation Creek Trail, the Coastal Trail, and other trails throughout DNCRSP . NPS employees will be utilized to conduct most operations.
Redwood National Park Superintendent Steve Chaney stated, "While taking on these additional responsibilities will mean we will have to do a little less of something somewhere else in the park, we look at the National Park and all three state parks within Redwood National and State Parks as a nationally significant resource and World Heritage Site which the NPS has a responsibility to help protect and make available to the public." He added, "Redwood National and State Parks is a partnership. We stand together to manage these magnificent resources for the people in the most effective and efficient manner possible."
The new plan won't cover all current activities in the state park. For example, the NPS will not be able to maintain public access on weekends to the Mill Creek Watershed (via Hamilton Road). California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR) "is willing to work with other organizations or groups with an interest in doing so, and will continue to manage extensive ongoing resource restoration projects within the Watershed which are funded through sources other than the state's general fund."
As in the case of the parks near San Francisco, the plan "will be dependent upon existing NPS funds along with fees collected for camping and day use [in the state park.] 100% of fees collected by the NPS will be used to support operations and facilities at DNCRSP."
The schedule of operation for the affected state parks will be determined in the next several months. Agency spokespersons say visitors planning next year’s trip to any of these parks or portions of parks can be assured that the facilities, to include day-use areas and campgrounds, will be open to the public beginning at least one week before Memorial Day weekend until at least one week following Labor Day weekend.
The existing reservation system, ReserveAmerica will still be utilized for all reservations and all California State Parks passes as well as all federal passes will be honored.
There's no doubt a unique relationship exists between these federal and state sites, and avoiding a closure of the state areas does seem to have benefits for the NPS. Even so, some may wonder if this could be the start of a trend as other state parks face similar funding shortfalls. What do you think?