County governments would get a chance to temporarily take over operation and maintenance of state parks that the state might otherwise shut down, under legislation introduced by local state Sen. Sam Blakeslee.
The bill by Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, would require the state Department of Parks and Recreation to notify counties when budget cuts are about to close a state park.
The state government faces expenses projected $25 billion higher than revenue, and budget-cutters have frequently suggested that state parks, while desirable, are simply too costly during hard times.
San Luis Obispo County has more than a dozen state parks, the jewel being the 8,000-acre Montaña de Oro.
Blakeslee’s bill does not address how counties would pay to keep parks open.
However, he suggests an increased role for volunteers, an area where he has a strong background.
“I’ve seen firsthand the passion and enthusiasm that exists for our state parks,” Blakeslee said. “Volunteers in my community and, I believe, all targeted communities, would certainly step up and offer further help if government were to but ask.”
“If the state cannot keep parks open, local stakeholders deserve the chance to work together to protect the jobs, economic activity and recreational opportunities offered by our local parks,” he later added.
In his news release, Blakeslee did not mention parks employees whose jobs might be taken by volunteers.
He cited research figures from Sacramento State, which found:
California State Park visitors spend an average of $6.9 billion per year in park-related expenditures.
An average park visit generates $80.85 per visit, including $31.32 spent within a 25-mile radius of the park and $49.53 spent outside the 25-mile radius.
State parks produce $1.66 billion in tourism revenue generated by nonresidents of California.
Chairman Adam Hill of the county Board of Supervisors applauded Blake-slee’s efforts, and noted that the county has a robust volunteer program.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who represents the North Coast, in which several state parks are located, said “In general, I support what Sen. Blakeslee is trying to do here.”
However, Gibson added, “I would want to see some details.”
“For instance,” he wrote, “if the state is trying to off-load the operating costs, maybe they should just turn the land over to the local jurisdiction permanently.”
Gibson said, “It’s a sad situation should we come to that — this state’s residents should be willing to provide the funds for the proper stewardship of public lands (as well as a number of health and human service programs).
“I don't think we should necessarily make it easy for the state to get out of their parks responsibility,” Gibson said.