Home to coastal redwoods, Douglas firs, live oaks and graceful waterfalls, 2,600-acre Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda was named Friday as one of 70 state parks on a list of proposed closures that the state says will result in a $33 million savings over the next two fiscal years. The closures represent twenty-five percent of the 278 parks in the system.
"It's a sad day for state parks and our recreating public," said Sheila Branon, Acting Sector Superintendent for the Santa Cruz Mountain region of the California State Parks agency. "We've never closed state parks before in the history of state parks," she said.
“We regret closing any park,” said Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, “but with the proposed budget reductions over the next two years, we can no longer afford to operate all parks within the system.”
“These cuts are unfortunate, but the state’s current budget crisis demands that tough decisions be made,” said John Laird, Secretary of the California Resource Agency. “Hopefully, Republicans in the legislature will agree to allow California voters to decide whether we extend currently existing taxes or make deeper cuts to our parks.”
The cuts were approved by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislature in March. Portola Redwoods is the is the only park in San Mateo County on the list.
In a statement, California State Parks said that the criteria to decide which parks to close was based on protecting "the most significant" cultural and natural resources, as well as "maintaining public access and revenue generation to the greatest extent possible."
Branon said she wasn't exactly sure what factors put Portola Redwoods on the list.
"It's very popular with locals and international visitors," she said.
But Branon also said that the remote park has been losing $310,000 a year, a figure she said was based on "the revenue that comes in from camping fees minus the expenditures for facilities maintenance, roads, water and wastewater management."
"We'll be ramping down to close by July 2012," Branon said, speaking in regards to Portola Redwoods and Castle Rock State Park in Santa Cruz, the other park in Branon's region slated for closure. "We'll be mothballing it," she added, which includes shuttering buildings and closing off advance campsite reservations.
After the gates are locked, Portola Redwoods and the other 69 parks on the list will officially be in "caretaker status," a classification used by the state to denote parks that are maintained periodically by rangers who monitor for "forest fires and graffiti," Branon said.
Branon did not know how often rangers will be able to monitor Portola Redwoods once it transitions into caretaker status.
Mary Hazel, the only ranger at Portola Redwoods, will not be laid off, but will be reassigned to another location, Branon said. Currently, Hazel and one maintenance employee are the only two staff onsite.
The California State Parks Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, announced their opposition to the closures on Friday. "This generation is on the verge of leaving California’s state park system smaller and in every way diminished for the next generation,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, in a statement. "The message to our children and grandchildren is that we can’t save their natural and historic legacy. They can no longer expect to have access to a public trust resource that should, by all rights, be theirs.”
The foundation questioned the state's ability to successfully close the parks, saying that many have multiple entry points which would make it impossible to protect from vandalism, theft and illegal activities.
"It's yet to be seen," Branon said when asked about the possibility of squatters who could be tempted to take up residence in Portola Redwoods after it closes.
But the California State Parks Foundation said that parks with minimal staffing already experience unwanted activity, and that closing the parks will only "exacerbate the problems facing state parks."
"Now is a time where we need to rely on volunteers more than ever," Branon said. "We'll have our volunteer trail crews continue to come in," she said, "which will be organized by a trail manager."
"We're going to try to manage the park to the best we can based on what we can provide, with limited resources," Branon said.
For an interactive map developed by the California State Parks Foundation showing which parks are on the closure list, click here.
To get more information on how you can support California state parks, visit the websites of the following organizations: