State parks facing upkeep challenge

While California’s 279 parks will remain open, looming budget cuts mean they’ll have fewer employees to lead tours, put out fires, fix roads and protect species such as the snowy plover.

Park upkeep and repairs also will suffer, according to Nick Franco, State Parks’ superintendent of the San Luis Obispo Coast District.

Last weekend, for instance, a vehicle crashed into the State Parks restroom at Old Creek Road and 24th Street in Cayucos.

If budget cuts are as deep as he expects, Franco said, “We likely won’t have the maintenance funding to repair the building.”

The governor’s office said Friday that he won’t follow through on his threat to close 100 of California’s parks, beaches and monuments.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzen-egger’s new parks strategy — designed to help combat the state’s $24 billion budget deficit — would save $12.1 million by reducing parks maintenance and not buying vehicles and other equipment.

Another $2.1 million would be saved by cutting an undetermined number of jobs. Some parks would be open only on weekends, and at others certain sections would be closed.

Franco said Monday he hasn’t yet been told how much money he’ll have to operate with during the rest of this fiscal year. If cuts are proportional among districts, he said, he may have to eliminate $1 million to $2 million in services and salaries from his total budget of $16 million.  

That’s similar to cuts proposed in 2007-2008, when the local district would have closed seven state parks in this county alone, including Montaña de Oro, Morro Strand and San Simeon state parks.

In recent years “we’ve been cutting to the bone, and now we’re eliminating bone,” Franco said. “The only way to achieve more savings is to have less employees. We’re approaching that death spiral we’re all afraid of.”

While the state continues seeking formal partnerships to help keep parks operating at peak levels, Franco said, “we’ll also need informal partnerships with every visitor, because there’ll be less staff there.”  

Visitors could be asked to take their trash to a single dumpster in a campground or park and pick up other garbage they see along the way, for example.

State Parks will need more volunteer helpers but could lack employees to coordinate and supervise them, Franco said.