State Parks brace for Closures and Fee Increases

California's state parks have wide disparities in the number of visitors they attract and the revenues they generate, two of the key factors officials are using to determine which parks they will close to make up for budget cuts.

State parks officials estimate that 100 parks will close in California, and their decisions about which parks will get the bad news will probably come soon after Labor Day.

Many of the most popular parks are Southern California beaches, while several parks in the Bay Area are among the least visited - and most vulnerable to closure. Those include the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, Bale Grist Mill Historic Park, Robert Louis Stevenson Park, Henry Coe Park and Gray Whale Cove State Beach.

Superintendents at local park districts throughout the state are scrambling to crunch numbers on costs for individual parks. Meanwhile, citizens groups are asking for donations with the hope of raising enough funds to keep their favorite places open.

"We're looking at parks with the lowest revenue and the lowest attendance to put on the (closure) list first, unless there are partners who want to pull them off," said Roy Stearns, spokesman for California State Parks. He said none of the parks make a profit and all are subsidized by the state.

In addition to closures, state parks officials announced earlier this week that starting Monday, day-use parking fees will increase by $2 to $5, depending on the park, and overnight camping fees will go up by $10 to $21 per night, again depending on the park.

The increases are not enough to make up the $51.6 million cut that parks face over the next two years. Stearns said all park fees would have to roughly triple to make up for the cut, but said that would probably price people out of using them and that could create a diminishing return.

Across the state, park officials and park enthusiasts are trying to find other governmental agencies, corporations, foundations and private individuals to make up the difference in the budget cuts and stave off park closures.

Dave Gould, superintendent of the Diablo Vista District that covers parts of the North Bay, East Bay and San Francisco, said he has not had much luck convincing local and county entities, which are dealing with their own budget shortfalls, to help.

They have said, " 'Join the club,' pretty much," Gould said. He said of the 13 parks he oversees operations for, four or five are likely to close. There have been no final decisions, but he said Candlestick Point Recreation Area, Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, Petaluma Adobe Historic Park and Bale Grist Mill Historic Park are vulnerable.

Along the San Mateo coast, one citizens group that works with parks for education and interpretive purposes has started an online fundraising campaign this week. Joyce Pennell, a board member of the San Mateo Coast Natural History Association, said they have yet to find out how much money is needed to keep the 15 coastal parks they work with open.

"We're just trying to collect as much as we can to help out," she said.

Park advocates hope money will come in but are bracing for closures that will probably lead to maintenance and security problems.

"I think it's clear to all of us that there are going to be park closures," said Jerry Emory, spokesman for the California Parks Foundation. "There's no way anything can happen in the next month or two to stop that."
Most popular parks

The top 10 most visited state parks and their number of visitors in 2007-08.

  1. Old Town San Diego - 5,308,786
  2. Bolsa Chica Beach - 4,328,553
  3. Hungry Valley Vehicle Recreation Area - 4,050,942
  4. Huntington Beach - 3,711,596
  5. Sonoma Coast State Park - 3,265,837
  6. San Onofre Beach - 2,578,951
  7. Seacliff Beach - 2,555,926
  8. Ocotillo Wells Vehicle Recreation Area - 2,213,947
  9. Doheny Beach, 2,177,232
  10. Oceano Dunes Vehicle Recreation Area - 2,012,613

Source: California State Parks

The top 10 parks that generated the most revenue in 2007-08.

  1. Hearst Castle - $8.7 million
  2. Bolsa Chica Beach - $3.29 million
  3. Hungry Valley Vehicle Recreation Area - $3.24 million
  4. Huntington Beach - $2.9 million
  5. San Onofre Beach - $2.8 million
  6. Old Town San Diego - $2.7 million
  7. Folsom Lake - $2.7 million
  8. Lake Perris Recreational Area - $2.3 million
  9. South Carlsbad Beach - $2.2 million
  10. Pfeiffer Big Sur Park - $2.06 million

Source: California State Parks