Editorial: A sensible plan for state parks

Finally, the state of California has released a sensible plan for reducing operating expenses at state parks, campgrounds, beaches and other popular recreation spots.

Instead of shutting down some of the state’s most beloved recreation sites — as the governor had repeatedly threatened — State Parks will save a respectable $14 million by cutting back on maintenance, delaying some needed repairs, partially closing some facilities and reducing hours of operation at others.

Four parks in San Luis Obispo County — San Simeon Creek Campground, Morro Bay State Park, Morro Strand State Beach and Montaña de Oro — are among those affected by the partial closures. The parks will remain open to visitors, but some campsites will be subject to closure through the spring. Hearst Castle will be open for tours as usual, though building and landscape maintenance will be reduced.

While we don’t like to see this reduction in services, we can live with these cutbacks, and we hope this can be a model for future lean years.

Yet we wonder, why did it take so long to arrive at this logical conclusion? And how can we avoid going through the same tired routine again next year?

Closing down as many as 100 state parks was never really an option. For one thing, it would have been almost impossible to seal off big stretches of wide, open public land — unless the state wanted to spend an arm and a leg on guards and fences.

For another, the state would have faced huge liability, including breach-of-contract lawsuits filed by concessionaires who operate gift shops, snack bars and restaurants inside state parks.

Bottom line: By the time the state subtracted the expenses associated with closing parks, there may not have been much savings left over. We hope state officials keep that in mind next year. If they don’t, let’s remind them: Our state parks are not a bargaining chip. The idea of closing them down to save money should be taken off the table — permanently.